Saint Lucia
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Government to Provide More Support to Farmers, Prospere

Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Alfred Prospere
Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Alfred Prospere

THE Ministry of Agriculture will be providing much-needed support to farmers in the near future following a meeting with stakeholders, Agricultural Minister Alfred Prospere said Thursday.

Prospere, in a recent interview, noted that farmers are facing various issues (the cost of fertilizer being one them) and as a result, have requested assistance from government.

“We are very low in meeting our quota (in terms of exporting to the UK). As we speak, the figure that I was informed of recently… we need 14,500 boxes a week and we are only supplying about 6,500 boxes of bananas.  We met all the stakeholders sometime in March and they expressed their concerns… what are the key requirements for them to increase production and one of the requirements was that government needs to assist them further in terms of the fertilizer,” the minister said, noting that the high cost has been an issue before.

“Although government provided two subsidies—one in September last year and one in January, they are still making a request for more support to enable them to increase their production. We have submitted a memo to Cabinet and Cabinet has embraced it. Very soon we should be providing some more support to our farmers, but in this case, I want to mention it will not only be the banana farmers; we are also going to be providing support to the plantain farmers because plantain farmers also play a very important role in terms of exports (and) they too are suffering as a result of the high cost of fertilizer,” Prospere said.

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Further, he stated, government is going to provide additional support to farmers “because it does not make any sense providing the fertilizer but at the same time you are not taking care of the health of the plants… so I’m very excited that this is happening.”

Whilst farmers will be exporting their products to the United Kingdom (UK), the minister said the region will take precedence as there are less challenges when it comes to exporting.

According to him, whilst the UK is providing a considerable amount “in terms of income… we must ensure that we secure the regional market first, that is key, because the issues are less in terms of shipping, time frame, (etc.) There are a number of issues that really makes it difficult for us to continue (exporting to the UK) on a sustainable basis.”

But if government can secure the regional market, he added, “which I believe we can do, then whatever surpluses they (farmers) have we can begin thinking of how we can continue into the UK.”

The Tropical race 4 –TR4 (a soil-borne fungus) continues to be a threat to local farmers, however, and Alfred urged farmers to be on the lookout for the deadly disease.

According to the Global Agricultural Productivity Report, TR4, also named Panama Disease, is a fungal pathogen threatening the future of the Cavendish banana, which accounts for 95% of banana production—over 400 million people around the world rely on these bananas for 15 to 27 percent of the calories in their diets.

“It worries me, it’s not here yet (or) maybe it’s here and we’re not aware because it is very close to us. It’s already in Venezuela; it can get to our doorsteps. It (affects) the roots of banana trees, it causes wilting and (depending) on what level or stage it is we cannot cure the problem. In other words, if it gets into Saint Lucia it affects plantains, bananas and other species. This is a very dangerous and destructive disease and I am appealing to farmers to be vigilant in terms of monitoring their plantation to see if there is any discoloration or signs of something unusual,” Prospere said.

Speaking on the progress Saint Lucia has made in agriculture, the minister said he was very impressed “when I saw the figures coming from the Economic and Social Review of 2022 and that is a document that captures information on how well the various sectors are doing.”

“The agricultural sector did very well in some key sub-sectors like livestock, the banana industry, fisheries and general crop production. I was very happy to see that our overall production in terms of value added increased by 9.8 percent. Over the last two consecutive years, that was extremely low and we know Covid would have been the major factor. We also saw an increase in banana production in 2022,” he said, adding that banana production increased by almost 11 percent.

“What was amazing (is that) although we had a major problem with sustaining the UK market, we were able to capture a 58.2 percent expansion of our bananas in the regional market which is excellent and should be continued because in the region there is tremendous potential. Had we not had the regional markets available to us, the situation that existed in the UK as a result of the supply chain issues— the high cost of freight, we would have been suffering a serious blow to that industry. Fortunately for us, we are seeing an increase in demand by a number of countries in the region for our bananas,” Prospere added.