Government launches multi-million dollar fund to assist farmers
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government has launched a six million dollar (One EC dollar =US$0.37 cents) programme that it says will help make the island the bread basked of the southern Caribbean.
The Farmers Support Programme, will provide concessionary loans to farmers at two per cent interest, as well as fertiliser and tools on credit.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said the six million dollar fund is as a result of a grant provided by the Venezuela-based PetroCaribe initiative through which Caracas sells oil to several Caribbean countries at preferential prices with grace periods for repayment.
“The money is almost a grant when you get it at two per cent. … I want you to have a lot of breathing space,” he said, urging farmers to repay their loans.
“I don’t want you to feel that if you borrow a EC$5,000 and you put it in your farm, and when you get your commodities and so on, and you get EC$15,000 out of what you put in, that the EC$15,000 belong to you, because EC$5,000 belong somewhere else. … You have to run your farm as a business,” he said.
“Please, we are in this thing, don’t try and beat the system. I am looking for the money, I am trying to help, but if you try and beat the system, you are beating yourself. … So, I really want us to be honest and straightforward with this exercise,” Gonsalves said.
Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar said that this 150-square mile, multi-island country, has 18,000 acres of lands remaining for agriculture and that farmers were willing and ready to work.
But he noted that the Caribbean has been impacted by global economic crisis and the removal of preferential treatment for many of its products including bananas.
“These factors, coming together, have created a significant deficit in capital available for investment in the farming community and in the agricultural sector,” Caesar said, noting that the main objective of the facility was to ensure a more resilient agricultural sector.
“The government is responding to this very critical and this very important need and there has been the formation of the Farmers Support Company,” he said.
The company, which was established last November, will ensure that the requisite framework is in place so that famers can receive their credit in the most efficient and efficacious manner, Caesar said.
He said St. Vincent and the Grenadines was poised to become the breadbasket of the southern Caribbean.
“This vision is not only shared by the Ministry of Agriculture, but in 2013 we exported to a sister island over 200 heads of cattle and has that order and other quantity of livestock,” he said.
Caesar said that the amount of agricultural produce exported to Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados has also increased, and his ministry wants to build on the foundation established by the Government through the years
“I want to assure the farmers who are listening that this credit facility will be dispensed within the most farmer-friendly environment,” he said, adding that the government has ensured that the forms are easy to “handle and to deal with”.
He said that the Ministry of Agriculture has also launched a national agricultural crusade, and would visit all villages and communities in this regard.
“We want the famers to benefit in a timely manner, because time is of the essence,” Caesar said, noting that there has been a significant increase in the price of arrowroot recently, and a request for 60 additional acres of the rhizome to be grown this year.
There have also been increase demands for cocoa plants and the government has promised to continue with its diversification programme this year.
“Brothers and sisters, farmers, I see a great day coming for us in the agricultural sector. The credit facility is one very important step, we have to also ensure that the labour side of it, that we work harder, that we are steadfast, that we are resolute as we move the process forward.
“I am confident that once we utilise these monies that are being made available to us today that we will be able to see an increase in production and productivity in this country,” Caesar said.
“We have a significant task ahead as we seek to reduce our food import bill. We have a significant challenge ahead as we have to ensure that matters of food security that they are brought under control, we also have to ensure that as we move forward, and as we develop as a nation, and as a people, that we produce more and that we create that environment to reduce poverty in many rural communities,” the Agriculture Minister said.