On one side there is the farming community crying that they are being pushed to extinction, on the other there is the Ministry of Natural Resources confident that the Territory currently stands at the door of an agricultural evolution and in the midst of both is the widespread concern of the BVI community about food security and absence of Farmers Week this February.
The lookout for Farmers Week activities this month stemmed from the fact that in 2016, the cherished, long tradition of agriculture and farming display was axed from the public calendar with a promise of a 2017 return.
However, with February approaching an end, and no promotion in sight The Island Sun newspaper endeavoured to find out more about the promised return and the current and future state of agriculture in the BVI.
Farmers View: “We gon die…”
It was noted that in response to obvious decision taken by government to forego the event this month, the group identified as ‘Farmers on the Move’ commenced plans to host an exhibition similar to the one they held last year.
The Island Sun newspaper understands that the Farmer Association is contemplating hosting another agriculture display sometime in March tentatively at the Festival Grounds.
Moviene Fahie, a member of the Farmers on the Move group and one of the Territory’s most prominent farmers, explained that presently persons in the BVI agriculture sector are unhappy.
“Food is a must, and right now in the BVI we see agriculture, and agriculture gone down the drain. I think [Premier] Dr [Hon. Orlando] Smith and Dr. [Hon. Kedrick] Pickering who is Natural Resources Minister need to wake up and see what time it is, because the world is changing; and the day that those ships don’t come in here we don’t have no food to feed this amount of people — we gon die…we can’t eat money you have to eat food,” Ms. Fahie announced.
She explained that the farmers are not asking for much, but their calls are being ignored:
“What the farmers need — nobody coming out to hear the farmers cry; and nobody seems to care in the BVI anymore about farming. People just getting on the radio fooling people, but people not stupid in the BVI.”
“If you see the amount of food I have in Paraquita Bay suffering and no water. All we need is water and land. There is a small issue to bring agriculture alive, all the government need to go up on the hill and put a catchment, and send the water down to the farmers. It don’t cost millions of dollars it’s just a sample thing because Paraquita Bay has over 20 wells there sitting with water. Right by the abattoir has one, the mill has one,” the past Champion Farmer explained.
Wake up Dr. Smith…World War 3 is here
However, Ms. Fahie explained that she and many other farmers are still persisting despite the water challenges: “I don’t sit down and wait on the government for handouts, I help myself. All the government need to do is get two tanks and get serious about agriculture in the BVI, because right now food is a must and right now with Trump, when Trump done with America we don’t know how we gon get food here; because world war three ready to start. It is time for Dr. Smith wake up from sleep and open his eyes and see what’s happening in the BVI. We have the farmers on the move, but right now nobody care about agriculture — we talking, but it’s like we just going around in circle… Government know One Mart and Rite Way didn’t have no food some months ago but they don’t care like they get on dark shades”
Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources, Hon. Dr. Pickering was very understanding of the farmers’ frustrations and told The Island Sun newspaper that his Ministry has been quietly working to bring about change.
He explained that he is aware that the farmers are contemplating private exhibitions and noted that his Ministry will support as best as it can. When asked if the Farmers Week event has canceled again, Hon. Pickering disclosed that there will be a 2017 Farmers Week event, just at a later date: “The date of the agricultural fair has been shifted to November, from now going forward. It was felt that the time of the year is during the rainy season, and this time of the year isn’t necessarily the best time to have it.”
He further explained that the Ministry was forced to make certain decisions because of budget constraints. “The budget has been slashed, and after the budget has been passed you will be able to see what the contribution is to the Department with respect to the agriculture fair; and you will realize that not only some changes have to be made, but what was taking place just isn’t possible anymore because of the budgetary constraint,” the Minister told The Island Sun.
Meanwhile, Hon. Pickering appears to be aware of the murmurs about the sector and made no attempt to pacify the matter: “Whatever complaints there are about agriculture there are probably well founded and deserved. The issue is that traditional farming in the BVI is very difficult for the government to continue to sustain because of budgetary restrictions,” he said.
Agricultural Advancement by 2018, hopefully…
On another note, he said that that he is excited to report that changes were on the horizon that will improve the current situation. The ancient greenhouse project which is a big part of agricultural advancement is moving forward: “We’ve been working deligently to get the greenhouses up and running. We owe IBT $1.5 million dollars more with respect to the overall budget. We cannot move forward the project until our contractual obligations have been met. The House of Assembly has finally given the Government and the Ministry the permission to borrow the needed fund to pay off the outstanding debt that we have with IBT. It is also important to continue to say that all of the hardware necessary for the greenhouses to be functional are sitting in a warehouse at Paraquita Bay but they are owned by IBT …until and unless we pay the final sum owed to them then the process can’t go forward and so we are in the final stages of getting that done.” Some people, though, ask why the project is taking so long and why it became such a mess.
Dr. Pickering admitted that the present state of the industry was disappointing, but assured that technology is a needed component: “Technology is where we have to move, and because we already have a start in that direction, and I will be the first to admit that it is a very disappointing situation but it isn’t that we haven’t tried to move the process forward it has just been a very difficult situation negotiating and paying off the outstanding etc to get the greenhouses up and running. We have a number of private and local individuals — farmers who are interested in the technology and we are excited to move forward.”
“I said recently that it is probably the first time as Minister I am actually excited about agriculture because there are two things happening — we are in the final stages of having the greenhouses sorted out, and the up and running of the sewerage treatment plant at Paraquita Bay we will then have enough water to supply not only the farms at Paraquita Bay but also to help with the green houses,” he added.
These changes, the Minister noted, will also include solutions to solve the water needs of the famers and electricity needs of the greenhouses: “In addition to that we are in discussion with the Electricity Corporation now that Government has an energy policy and has amended the legislation on various initiatives. We are at a stage where we are getting ready to embark on a program with the Electricity Corporation to use renewable energy especially at Paraquita Bay for the greenhouses in the initial instance…The discussion is ongoing.”
Hon. Pickering further announced that the major improvement of the industry will be seen by year end: “It is very exciting to know that this is where we are despite the fact that it seems like we have been doing nothing about agriculture, but it’s because we’ve been working diligently to do what needs to be done to make the transition to utilizing the technology; and I think that by the end of this year we should be in a position where the whole thing is coming together. Agriculture will get not only a stimulus, but a boost that should generate food and take us to a position where everybody who is interested in growing anything at all will have the opportunity to do that.”