By Mellica McPherson
Despite the many praises and acknowledgements that were showered on farmers during the 31 October sitting of the House of Assembly when Legislators debated the $1.5M loan to finance the Greenhouse project, one farmer has now announced that he is unhappy that similar investments are not being made in traditional farming.
In presenting the Motion to the House on Monday, Acting Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering explained that government is desirous of borrowing the sum of $1,500,000 for the purpose of financing of the startup and functioning of the Paraquita Bay Greenhouses project. Hon. Pickering said that Deutsche Bank S.A.E has agreed to grant a loan facility $1,500,000 to the Government of to cover the startup and functioning of the Paraquita Bay Greenhouses project. He disclosed that Deutsche Bank S.A.E and the Government agreed that the loan facility shall be repaid over a period of five years.
However, during the Speak Out BVI radio program that was aired on ZBVI radio on November 1 a farmer announced that he was unhappy that no investment was being made in traditional farming. He told host of the programme Doug Wheatley: “The Minister said he has $1.5M to deal with the Greenhouse situation; and none of that money ain’t allotted to the traditional farmers. So how these Ministers could just talk about the farmers, and talk at the farmers, and none of them can talk to the farmers.”
To put the situation into proper perspective the mover of the Motion Hon. Pickering presented a history of the loan project and explained that moving the project forward was a winding process: “The original loan was from the Deutsche bank and the original date was from the 28 October, 2009; and the original loan was $4.758M the total amount that has been disbursed to date is $2,155,276.50. Dr. Pickering said only that amount was disbursed because the loan facility was revised due to the decision not to move forward with the greenhouse part of the project on Virgin Gorda. The first disbursement was on the 20 June 2010. First repayment was made on 20 December.
The current loan facility to try and complete the project at Paraquita Bay is being carried out under the auspices of the lender Deutsche Bank.
Current Situation and Future Plan for Greenhouses
“It is fair to say that the Greenhouse project has been a rather long and difficult issue for us to deal with. I have given a number of updates in the House. A number of the issues that had to be sorted cost us an immense amount of time to come to an agreement with the previous project managers and a number of contractors that were owed outstanding money. It is safe to say that all of the hardware that was needed to outfit the greenhouses has been sitting in a warehouse, and is waiting to be utilized. The problem is that that equipment is owned by IBT not the Government of the BVI until the final monies are paid; and so as a part of our negotiated settlement with them they have agreed that once the outstanding balances are paid to them they will then have their team on the ground.” He opined that at that time hopefully the greenhouse project that started several years ago can be completed.
Minister Pickering said that Government plans to engage Mr. Steve Augustine to oversee the local component while the IBT team will work on the rest and then finally have the greenhouses up and running
“This is where we are right now as soon as we can get approval from the House, Cabinet has already approved it; and as soon as we can get approval from the House to proceed with borrowing this $1.5 million loan facility and waiting for the Government to access it once the House gives approval then we expect that all of the necessary steps to follow will then take place.”
Opposition Leader Skeptical
Leader of the Opposition, and Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser announced that he is doubtful of the government’s commitment to the project, and said that he did not hear much about the future of the Greenhouses.
“As hopeful as I am regarding the greenhouses project, I am still skeptical about it. I am wondering how serious government is about really advancing this project. The Minister gave some explanation and presentation on the Motion, but did not give enough. Talked about engaging Mr. Augustine, who I believe will be acting in capacity of project management, but after the project is constructed what happens to it? Is it going to sit there for another five years before something happens?”
“I think we are either buying time or fooling someone. I would like to believe that the Minister is sincere when he said that he is going to move the project forward…Based on what I have seen so far, I believe this project is not going anywhere,” the Opposition Leader added.
Help for Traditional Farmers
During the debate of the Motion, Minister for Communications and Works Hon. Mark Vanterpool agreed that more could be done to assist the traditional farmer who he lauded for their commitment to ensure a local food supply.
“They are making the effort. While they make the effort, we must look at how we can as a government try to help them with subsidizing… We can provide much more water to the farmers in a subsidized manner to be able to produce more crops – not just in the greenhouse… Maybe at some point we can create for farmers in certain areas water supply through perhaps their own desalination plant to be able to produce more of their crops,” the Minister said.