Food Security, Agriculture & Farming Are Top Priorities: Minister Says

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Although he noted that the medical marijuana plans are a priority, Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr the Hon. Natalio Wheatley announced that Government is laying the ground works for plans that would not only guarantee food security but also set agriculture and farming as a viable industry.

Since the government’ announcement about the medical marijuana plans some residents have openly echoed concerns about the future of locally produced food stating comments in blogs such as “we can’t eat marijuana.” Therefore in a somewhat indirect response to such naysayers the Minister assured that the concern for the food security remains a government priority.

“We are going into the marijuana industry, persons believe that that means that we are going to ignore crop production and livestock production – nothing can be further from the truth,” Hon. Wheatley stated during his appearance on the Honestly Speaking with Claude Skelton-Cline Talkshow on 11 February.

The Minister explained that Government has been moving ahead with general agriculture reform plans and part of the process, he said, involved working with a consultant from Canada to help establish a commercially viable industry.

Hon. Wheatley pointed out that moving the agriculture sector from where it is now to where government plans it to be would require that laws be revised to make the plans viable. “The legislation for agriculture is decades old and there is a lot of things that we can do in that legislation to modernize agriculture and fisheries,” he explained.

The Agriculture Minister said that the revision of the law would make way from new agricultural support structure that would be able to even facilitate industry investment. “I believe that we need a proper structure in agriculture. Agriculture needs investment…Right now, we might give them land, might give them a few posts with some fence and say make magic happen but they need certain inputs to be able to be successful,” he explained.

In explaining future plans Hon. Wheatley said, “What we are going to do is set up a statutory body that is actually going to set a farmer up in an operation and contract them to be able to grow a particular crop. If you really want to bring consistency to the market, when the market calls for something you have to be able to have that and that would require some coordination among the farmers in terms of what they grow. We will basically be contracting farmers to grow a particular crop and we will give them a guaranteed market. Whatever they can produce we will buy and we are going to make sure it gets to the supermarkets, to the restaurants, to farmers market.”

He further noted that market will be available for the local produce because it would be more attractive to buy local and organic: “Given the shipping prices that we have here and given the fact that you have all types of harsh chemicals being used abroad…there are added incentives to be able to produce locally. I think it just needs the right coordination and the right investment.”

Hon. Wheatley also explained that the strides are not only for crop production but livestock production as well. “We are going to see very soon that we have granted some farmers some land to engage in poultry farming. Poultry farming is something I have been speaking about for years and years. We are going to see it become a reality. We will be producing more poultry for the market. Its healthier it provides business opportunities and employment opportunities.”  A commentarist told this newspaper: “And it is not chlorinated like in USA and it is zero miles food”.

The Agriculture Minister noted the farm-to-table trend and said that it is something that businesses here are already doing and it is something that the industry can capitalize on. “I have been around the Virgin Islands and I have noticed that the tourists have a great desire for local food. This concept ‘from the garden to the table’ is something that the tourist love.”

 In an example of local farm-to-table initiatives the Minister noted that places like Guana Island offer breakfast from their garden. “They use stuff directly from their garden in their restaurant and it works well for them.”

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