By Melanius Alphonse
If you examine Saint Lucia’s landscape, it is predictable. What is lacking is government’s ability to act! From Gros Islet in the north, right down to Vieux Fort in the south, you can't miss the glaring evidence of failure on the agricultural front.
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking at the land mass that rolls over hills and plateaus, and along the coastal regions of the island, it would be a safe to conclude that Saint Lucia might have been able to better withstand the global challenges that currently confront the nation had government invested heavily in agriculture, and made it the bedrock of the nation's economy.
But instead of government being proactive and putting the enormous weight of their public office towards transforming the island into a self-sustainable agricultural paradise, they prefer to engage in political semantics and polarization; thus obtaining the very same trivial results that do nothing to advance Saint Lucia's economic wellbeing.
Recognizing the unprogressive environment from which the Saint Lucia government operates, it is not difficult to understand why the old challenges remain. In fact, 35 years after the island set itself on the path of independence, GDP continues to crawl; food inflation remains high, spending power and negative consumption patterns continue to persist. Low expectation of growth continues to inflate the deficit and impede upon infrastructural development, as well as having a negative impact on national educational programs and the business climate in general.
Again, the missing link required to spur the economic recovery is right before our very eyes. A quick look at the number of unproductive farmlands and other unutilized lands, coupled with the growing unemployed workforce in the country, is enough to alarm everyone.
Therefore, the time to improve Saint Lucia’s food self-sufficiency, and move in a direction where large amounts of goods and services are produced with the use of new and modern technology, is now.
“We don't simply need change, we need rethinking,” -- the kind that aims to curb inflation through education, and raise the standard of living by creating good paying jobs within the agricultural sector.
A closer examination of the behavioral pattern in the Saint Lucian economy during the 70s and 80s is living proof that, had the country sustained the agricultural discipline of diversity and local production, poverty could have been eradicated all together. The boom years of the banana industry is proof of such -- an era that produced a remarkable economic revival throughout the nation.
But with the dwindling enthusiasm for agriculture that became very evident in the 90s, coupled by urbanization and mass migration out of Saint Lucia, it would appear that the economic situation has become more risky than any given period in the post independence years since 1979.
At this time there is need to correct these concerns with a concerted effort to protect farmlands, water resources and animal habitat via a National Land Trust, and to keep farmlands in the hands of farmers for generations to come.
Once that is established, it is essential that landowners and farms develop a business plan to run a viable farm business – with assistance of agricultural and management institutions to help build capacity, strengthen resources for efficiency and productivity.
Moreover, taking into account that a proposed national food policy to strengthen the food industry, rural agricultural based development and to improve the economic well-being of farmers is now more that ever a welcome refresher -- that should be reason enough to act. Please refer to the article entitled “We have agriculture; it’s time for agribusinesses” dated May 26, 2011.
These changes can take place, especially in an environment where farmland is available, to allow farmers the opportunity to grown fresh local food with the option to make agribusiness an investment worth pursuing.
The revenue from this undertaking would go a long way to develop rural economies, and contribute in the development of the social fabric of communities nationwide.
The Lucian Peoples Movement (LPM) is doing its part, literally and practically. In so going, our analysis is featured in the Home and Garden Club of Gros Islet. This affirmative action plan supports urban home gardening and promotes healthy food consumption from farm-to-table.
It is therefore important to understand the role that farmlands play in the development of Saint Lucia; the effects of climate change, and the importance of living in a toxic free environment for the safe production of food and the provision for sustainable employment.
The unregulated practice to sell prime agricultural lands and the nation’s most precious inheritance to the highest bidder and expect changes in the economic situation where food production and economic growth is concerned is short sighted.
Saint Lucia may have unconsciously reached the point to halt that practice!
The country is currently recording increased imports of fruits, vegetables, food crops and meat products for local consumption, including the tourism industry. The food import bill can provide a statistical representation of an irresponsible and reckless act that should be corrected immediately.
As a result, the LPM has a vision to transform Saint Lucia into an oasis of food production and agricultural development. But our ideas to move the country forward can only be enacted in an environment where all responsible Saint Lucians are willing to conclude that the current system of governance and its policy on agriculture have failed to live up to expectations.
Frankly, it makes no sense why a nation blessed with fertile land, vegetation and an industrious people should suffer under the yoke of poverty.
In the meantime, hats off to the farmers who have contributed and continue to maintain the food chain. Improvements will have to be made to restore farmlands, build new plants and infrastructure, and expand agri-business, which is the first step to competing on the global market.
History and patience is on the side of the LPM, and this is why we are courageous enough to walk that very difficult road that will one day enable us to manage the agricultural and natural resources to the economic benefit of a people so desperately in need of a better future.