Protecting Agricultural Lands
A National Land Use Policy should be adopted that identifies and protects the lands that are critical for agricultural development. Lands that are best suited for farming must be preserved for farming. In some cases, this may require government to purchase these lands and put in place the necessary modern farm infrastructure that will allow them to contribute to our national food security.
The agriculture policy should differentiate between the support required to achieve food security and that required to facilitate the expansion of production for export. Both goals should be pursued, but with the understanding that the levels of assistance required by the respective producers will be different.
Many of the soils on the farms on which commercial agricultural production currently takes place are in serious need of improvement. In several cases this involved increasing the organic content of the soils or rebalancing the acidity levels. Unfortunately, this is beyond the capacity of many of the existing farmers. It is unrealistic to expect high yields from tired and depleted soils. Government should provide direct support to registered farmers to help them increase the productivity of the farms on which they grow produce through a Farm Lands Improvement Program.
The Banana Industry
The banana industry is important for employment in the rural sector and for its contribution to the national economy. Although the years of 'green gold' are behind us, it is possible to have a vibrant and profitable banana industry supplying high quality fruit to the United Kingdom market. Government should work with the National Fair Trade Organization to improve the productivity of banana farms and improve the quality and consistency of the fruit produced to levels that will allow us to retain and gradually improve the market share we enjoy with the large UK supermarkets.
The Fisheries Sector
Aquaculture and aquaponics present opportunities to create new jobs, particularly among young people and to stimulate new economic activity in the rural sector. Government should provide incentives to encourage the development of these areas.
The blue economy presents many opportunities for income generation and job creation. However, our marine resources must be managed responsibly. More effort should be put into the sustainable use of our fisheries resources. This should include the development of marine managed areas, protection of mangroves and coral reefs that provide important habitats and breeding grounds for fish, deployment of fish aggregating devices (FADs) which allow fishers to increase the efficiency and productivity of their efforts, and regular monitoring of fish and seafood stocks to prevent over-fishing.
Tourism as a Catalyst for Agriculture
The success of the tourism industry should be used to the advantage of the agriculture sector. It should be Government policy to support farmers in their efforts to sell high quality produce to the cruise ships that visit our ports and the hotels that operate on the island.
Measures should be put in place to put an end to the unfair practice of hotels paying farmers late for their produce. The establishment of a government-supported intermediary mechanism that will allow the farmer to be paid on time while accounts are settled with the hotels should be actively supported.
Hotels should be encouraged to make greater use of local produce in their restaurants. Incentives to hotels above a certain threshold should be tied to the percentage of local products purchased by the hotel.
Marketing of Produce
An agriculture marketing agency should be developed as the successor to the Marketing Board and the Fish Marketing Corporation, with the mandate to purchase quality produce from farmers and fishers for sale to the tourism and hospitality sector. This new entity should also work together with Winfresh to market non-banana produce and value-added products in regional and North American markets.
The existence of Winfresh as a corporate entity, owned by the Governments of the Windward Islands, with very good marketing and distribution links in the United Kingdom and strong supporting infrastructure, must be capitalized on by the Government to expand the range of fresh produce and value-added products that are exported to the UK and markets in Europe.
The Government should actively encourage and provide incentives for the processing of local produce into value-added products that can take advantage of the growing demand for exotic foods and nutraceutical products in markets in North America and Europe.
Recognizing that the high cost of energy is one of the impediments to adding value to agriculture, incentives should be given to farmers to allow them to invest in solar-photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for use in agro-processing. This should include concessions for the duty-free importation of material for solar-PV electricity generation and storage, and concessional loans for investing in renewable energy generation and energy-efficient equipment.
Support to Cooperatives
Support should be provided to farmers' cooperatives so that they may provide an improved service to their members. This can include dedicated embedded technical support in extension and marketing.
Also, support should be provided to Producer Cooperatives for the construction of adequate storage facilities, with refrigeration powered by solar-photovoltaic panels to reduce the operating costs of these facilities.
Support for Peri Urban Farming
In order to promote food security and the adoption of healthier lifestyles, households should be encouraged to engage in backyard/kitchen gardening. To educate children on the importance of eating healthy and growing as much of what we eat as possible, every primary and secondary school on the island should be mandated to maintain a kitchen garden, which should receive technical support from a dedicated officer from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The school feeding program should be reconfigured so that it uses exclusively local produce, procured from specially contracted local farmers. A central food preparation facility should be established, staffed by a qualified nutritionist and qualified chef, with responsibility for converting the produce purchased from local farmers into healthy, nutritious school meals that are distributed throughout the school system on the island. This will serve the double purpose of providing a new market for local agricultural produce and helping to combat the growing problem of child and teen obesity.
Expanding into Nutraceuticals and Medicinal Plants
There is a growing global market for nutraceuticals, which include products derived from turmeric, ginger and soursop. These are products that can easily be grown on a commercial scale in Saint Lucia. Therefore, efforts should be made to capitalize on this opportunity by obtaining markets that would allow our farmers to expand production of these types of products.
Similarly, there is a wide range of medicinal herbs that have traditionally been used to treat ailments. Government should enter into partnerships with the University of the West Indies and other scientific or medical research institutions to seek to develop commercial products out of these medicinal plants.