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Farmers and Fishers to Rebound – Minister Prospere 🌱🐟

By Reginald Andrew
Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Alfred Prospere
Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Alfred Prospere

Agriculture Minister Alfred Prospere has reiterated the government’s commitment to helping farmers and fishers rebound from the natural disasters and external shocks that have impacted the country’s food supplies.

While satisfied with the distribution of fertilisers to local farmers in the aftermath of the damages caused by the passage of Tropical Storm Bret, the minister said, it was important for farmers to resume planting their crops as there are regional markets available to export their food stocks. He also provided updates relating to assistance within the fishing sector.

Speaking to reporters, apart from the weekly Cabinet meeting on Monday, the minister disclosed that the department has embarked on the disbursement of Small Assistance to the farmers, and “it’s going very well”. He said, quite a few farmers have received limited funding in some cases, and the 30 % subsidy to farmers has been rolled out.

Prospere also noted, that on Wednesday, the ministry will be distributing 3,975 bags of Moroccan fertilizer to the farmers within the eight agricultural regions in the country. Additionally, the ministry will cater to farmers who were not contacted during the assessment and are still pushing through with requests for assistance.

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Responding to queries about the reopening of the fish market that was announced about two years ago, Prospere said, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to assist the St Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation with a small loan of $1.5 million and have disbursed some of these funds to the fishers.

“Currently, the government has expended nearly EC$ 400,000. 00 to upgrade the electricals at the facility,” said Prospere. “We are in discussion to finalise the new lease agreement, because Cabinet decided to remove the Dennery and Vieux Fort facilities from the previous agreement signed on by the former administration.”

He said the Lucian Blue Ocean, a privately-owned facility is expected to be opened “very soon”, as the government provided resources through the National Economic Fund, via a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.

The minister also recalled that the government has assisted the NFTO (National Fairtrade Organisation) with a $3.8 million loan “to assist with the whole banana situation”. He contended that the former government caused the collapse of WINFRESH and “the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration had to come in and assist the NFTO with that loan”.

Responding to concerns about the size or capacity of loans granted to the farmers, Prospere said, since about 75% of the island’s agricultural produce was impacted by the effects of Tropical Storm Bret, the government decided to “assist those farmers and stakeholders in that sector to get them back into production”.

The minister said it is critical to note “the value and importance of the banana industry”. He said when the SLP administration assumed office in 2021, the banana industry was “dead” and “we had lost our shipping rights …and we lost Winfresh – which was the main entity for the export of our bananas.”

Prospere said that under challenging conditions the current administration attempted to “do the best we could” to resume the export of bananas to the United Kingdom. However, he stated, due to the extenuating factors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent Russia–Ukraine war, combined with the added pressure of “shipping costs” hindered the country from being able to export bananas.

“There is still tremendous potential for Saint Lucia’s bananas in the region,” noted Prospere. “Currently, the market requires 15,000 boxes per week, and before Tropical Storm Bret we were only exporting half of that. We are hoping that the assistance we give to the farmers will go a long way in increasing their production and helping to meet the demand in the regional market.”

The minister said the regional market cannot be ignored since it takes less time within a time frame of 21 days to ship the stock within the territories “to 28 days between here and the UK”.

Asserted Prospere: “So, there is a market available to us in the region and we need to take advantage of it. So, the assistance we are giving to the farmers is just to help them get back into production.”

He added that despite the economic constraints, the government was able to disburse “more than $ 2.4 million to the farmers, in addition to the fertiliser subsidy of 30% …so that 25kg. bag of fertiliser that was going for $70”, farmers now pay $48 for it; and the 58kg bag priced at $168, they now pay $109 for that bag.

“We are also providing nematicides to both plantain and banana farmers …and we are providing 2litres (fertiliser) per acre to every plantain and banana farmer in Saint Lucia,” the minister added.

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