The Meet the Farmers Tour, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, commenced in Portsmouth on Monday.
Meet the Farmers Tour is a new initiative aimed at dialoging with farmers across the island, to give them the opportunity to air their concerns.
Over seventy farmers attended the first meeting, at which various Ministry of Agriculture officials were present, including the Minister Reginald Austrie, and Permanent Secretary, Dr. Reginald Thomas.
During the Question and Answer segment of Monday’s meeting, farmers seized the opportunity to bring to their concerns to the fore.
These included the deplorable condition of farm roads, access to financing especially at the AID Bank, funding for persons involved in agro-processing, and wildlife destroying their crops.
In addressing the farmers’ concerns, Minister Austrie said the destruction to the forest will pose a great challenge in food production.
“With the state of the forest, we are going to have a major problem in terms of getting our food pollinated and to feed the parrots,” Mr. Austrie said.
Thus, he added the plan is to try to reconstruct the forest as quickly as possible.
Minister Austrie assured farmers that farm access and feeder roads will be addressed under the multi-million dollars financing agreement recently signed with the World Bank, in addition to the continuation of work under the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) agreement signed in May 2016.
The rehabilitation of ten feeder roads had commenced in 2016 following the signing of three contracts worth over twenty million dollars funded by the European Union through BAM but was halted by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
The contract for Lot 1 was awarded to Philippe Valbon, Managing Director of Trayvis EURL of Martinique 2.2 million Euros or $6.7 million EC. This lot includes the Syndicate and Mero, Cuba, Salisbury feeder roads.
The contract for Lot 2 was awarded to Charles Daher, Managing Director of Nationwide Mobile Concrete Suppliers Limited of St Lucia in the amount 1.3 million Euros or 3.7 million EC dollars. It includes the Middle Ridge, Mango Gutter, Motine, Ti Grand Fond, Fweyal-Bois Dernier and Bois Bellevue.
The contract for Lot 3 was awarded to Roland Coursil, General Manager of Travaux Publics Batiments of Martinique in the amount of 3.03 Euro or 9.1 million EC. It includes the Melville Hall and Colihaut feeder roads.
Minister Austrie told the farmers while the government has a duty to ensure that the roads are built, the responsibility for taking care of the roads falls on the farmers because they are the ones who will be “caught up with the problem”.
“We have millions of dollars spent in feeder roads, but you don’t see the farmers on the feeder roads. And then the same farmers who are asking for those feeder roads, they will pass and see a coconut branch on the road and they will not take it out,” he said.
Additionally, Minister Austrie said the Agricultural Investment Unit was established at the AID Bank to assist farmers in accessing financing.
“Yes, the conditions might be a little stiff, but it is people’s money, and if people are not paying back it is a little untidy,” he said.
“But I guess, that will be addressed under the World Bank, to see how we can make capital a little easier and more readily available to the farmers,” Minister Austrie added.