Sunday morning on the way to church I was thinking about the current plight of our farmers in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It's my opinion, by my often being with them, that I have a special insight into their lives. The Vincentian farmers who were once able to generate wealth and well being for their families, have since 2001 been reduced to peasants and even in some cases paupers. Men and women, some days unable to put gas in their old pickup trucks, have to take a bus to the shops and stores.
So I decided to trawl the internet for some figures and statements regarding our agriculture.
When the ULP took away the farmers associations and the assets attached thereto, which in my mind was nothing more than trickery and sleight of hand, things took an evil turn. When the ULP first got into power they tried to convince the farmers that the route they should take is that of solidarity. They started using all those Marxist terminology words. They asked them if they would like to become a co-operative, a communist controlled kind of organisation. Of course, the farmers didn’t want that, so the government decided on another way of taking their valuable association properties, thus the trickery and sleight of hand was hatched.
A big effect on the well being of our farming community on the leeward coast has been the building of Bell Isle Prison and Correction Facility, where some of the best farm land on the leeward was taken from the farmers for its construction and curtilage. It would be interesting to know how those farmers were financially treated by the government. Because on the Windward side of the island, the very best production farm land in the whole of St Vincent was stolen from the farmers. I say stolen because it was taken from them, some as early as 2008, and now in 2014, some six years later they still have not been paid for their lands. This action by the government of stealing the farmers’ land must mean that the owners have been put out of business, they cannot produce, and they cannot buy land elsewhere on the island. They cannot in many cases afford to live, cannot afford to send their children to university, and they certainly cannot afford to get ill or die. They cannot afford to provide for a widow.
Yes you are reading me right; they still haven't been paid for their lands in 2014.
I notice in a number of reports that the SVG government informed several organisations [including the IMF] that the decline in agriculture was because of a number of plant diseases.
What the government failed to tell these organisations was that the plant diseases were so great because the ministry of agriculture failed to get them under control, and in some cases failed to control them at all. They failed to tell them that drought in dry seasons could not now be alleviated because they had allowed the irrigation system to become defunct, it no longer works, and in some places it no longer exists. They failed to inform the organisations that they had under-funded the ministry of agriculture to such a degree that they were unable to consistently spray the crops, and in some cases sprayed twice in six months when they should have sprayed twice every month. They failed to enlighten the institutions that the money for the ministry of agriculture was diverted to building the Argyle airport. That they couldn't afford to fund both, so chose the airport over agriculture.
So then I decided to look at annual figures published by a number of different organisations, and to compare them with each other, to see if they had all been fed the same information. Really to see if there was a Maurice Bishop style of reporting going on to deceive lenders such as World Bank and the IMF.
But went in a different direction when I found an article that sent me off on a digression.
I found an article dated January 2013, written by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], titled “We want to be one of the first islands in the Caribbean to reach zero hunger”. An article based on an interview given by Saboto Caesar, our minister of agriculture, fisheries, forestry's and rural transformation. At the time he was in Santiago, Chile.
Caesar told them his prime objective is for the country to eradicate hunger, through St. Vincent and the Grenadines Zero Hunger program. "We want to be one of the first islands in the Caribbean to reach zero hunger."
He said we had achieved the Millennium Development Goal number one, and the very coveted World Food Summit Goal, which means that the country was able to reduce hunger and under nourishment to fewer than 5% of the population.
He explained the FAO sub-regional office in Barbados sent a nutritionist to our SVG, to see how we can utilize our local food to guarantee more nutritious meals, and within two months we received technical support from the FAO to do a survey of the country, look at all the government reports and speak with non-government organizations, and he was able to identify those places in the country where there are pockets of poverty and under nourishment. Now we have a working model of how we are going to use our local food production to create more nutritious food and tend to the most vulnerable, as well as reducing food waste.
Then Caesar went on to talk about agriculture under the heading "Why use agriculture as a means to overcome food insecurity and poverty?"
"In St Vincent and the Grenadines because of our small population size we cannot use economies of scale in a carte blanche way because our size just makes us very peculiar. It is not difficult to feed 109,000 people.
"Even though we are small in fact we have so much food that we actually export.
"What we have to do to reach zero hunger is an issue of [here comes the Marxist wording] redistribution and creating an atmosphere of wealth and poverty alleviation within these pockets of poverty, so that they can acquire food in an affordable way.
"One critical issue that I wanted to address is that you cannot address hunger and under-nourishment by only looking at this problem from the point of view of people not having a meal.
"That is the end stage of hunger but they will have been many steps that led to this person not having access to a meal.
"So when addressing the issue of zero hunger we will also be addressing other critical issues such as employment in rural areas.
"When someone is employed, when we give people land, when we create subsidies and grants for farmers so they can increase their income levels, once that happens they can afford food.
"We are not going to have a meals on wheels program, where we going to send the truck into each district to give you three square meals a day, because that is not a sustainable way to end hunger and it's also going to be a heavy burden on the national purse."
What grants? What subsidies? The government has given what can be likened to a handful of peanuts. They are not alleviating hunger among the farmers, they are driving them into poverty, but the farmers will always be able to feed themselves.
The problems arise because the farmers are earning nothing, the shopkeepers and stores earn nothing from them, and an evil circle is created. Because money is made to go around, those at the bottom get no employment from farmers, and others in between that earn from farmers are unable to employ the less fortunate.
He says they are creating jobs, what jobs? The jobs they have are all government created jobs, no private sector jobs. They have created zilch. If any worker or group of workers asks for money owed to them, wages, or expenses, allowances or such like, they sack them, fire them, throw them on the scrap heap. Look at the port police and the agricultural irrigation workers. Demanded being paid, zoom, Massa has them out on the street. Whole families starving, including their children and babies.
Before Christmas, Easter and Carnival, poor villagers are given work cleaning gutters, ditches and drains. Chopping the vegetation from beside the roads. Sent out like slave gangs to earn a handful of dollars, not enough to feed the family for a week. This nasty government likes to announce that they are helping people during those holiday periods. If giving them three to six weeks work a year is help, someone must be pretty sick in the mind. Besides that, it’s not to help the people, it’s to ensure the island looks spick and span when those in the Diaspora return home during these holiday periods. The same as some of the holes in the roads are repaired in the same periods for the very same reason. To create the illusion that everything is hunky dory to our returning Vincentians from abroad.
Ceasar finally said, "Personally, I'm very excited that we will be able to reach the goal of ending hunger before 2015."
Well its before 2015 now, I look around and still find people buying 1/4 lb of rice, 1/2 lb of chicken back, 1 onion, 1 egg. People begging in the streets. School children begging for lunch money in the car parks, having been sent to school with no breakfast. Dozens of people being fed at the Catholic Cathedral and Salvation Army feeding stations. People sleeping in doorways and on the pavement, not just at night, in the middle of the day. People having to choose between buying school books and putting food on the table.
Well everything is not good in SVG; I would like to ask the FAO just what they are playing at and how they gather the information that tells them that people are not hungry in SVG. http://www.fao.org/americas/noticias/ver/en/c/230487/
The other part of this story: Checking annual figures published by a number of different organisations, to compare them with each other, to see if they had all been fed the same information. To see if there was a Maurice Bishop style of reporting going on to deceive lenders such as World Bank and the IMF, even the FAO -- the story will be told at another time soon.