Agriculture in St. Kitts moving in the right direction

Basseterre, St. Kitts (CUOPM) – With a new minister in the driving seat and an energetic acting Permanent Secretary, agriculture in St. Kitts is “Moving in the Right Direction.”

Acting Permanent Secretary for Agriculture, Mr. Ashton Stanley says development of the sector, which has taken a fair share of hits and misses, challenges, complaints and problems not only internally, but also externally and environmentally, have been transformed.

He said agriculture has struggled to match the GDP contributions of tourism and the services sectors and although it may not match tourism’s contribution any time soon, the staff at the Department of Agriculture has been diligent in their service not only to farmers, but to all consumers on the island.

“It is this concerted effort which has seen the transformation of the agricultural sector.  Revamping the approach to livelihood protection and the pursuit of attainable goals has together transformed agriculture. We have seen the transformation of the sector with upgrading storage facilities, irrigation supplies and water dams, green houses, the land distribution to farmers, the improvement of the gene pool of the livestock sector,” said Mr. Stanley.

In the livestock sector, the Department of Agriculture has worked on improvement of genetic material for the production of the livestock industry which was a must in order to increase the production and quality and the affordable meat products.

He said the artificial insemination programme with the cattle and the upgrading of the pig industry are key steps in the right direction and there has also been improvement of forage with mullato grass which thrives well in the dry period and can support the nutritional needs of ruminants when other forage is scarce.

Mr. Stanley said the Ministry of Agriculture has sought Cabinet’s support for providing water to the farmers as a tangible and attainable goal for fiscal year 2014.

“I am quite happy to announce that more and more farmers are getting relief from water shortage and accessibility issues with the harvesting of water through the construction of dams and use of storage tanks.  The expectation therefore is that year round water availability will lead to year round production of high quality farm produce.  Again, a step in the right direction,” he said.

He stressed that continuing the lines of improvements in farming techniques and improvements in agriculture, and farming systems in St. Kitts, have changed with the introduction of greenhouses which shades the crops from adverse weather conditions, and provides some level of control over the optimal growth of crops and at the same time, assures the consumers of safe and high quality produce.

Mr. Stanley said that to date 18 greenhouses have been constructed across the island and that the Ministry will move into phase two of the programme with the construction of an additional 21 greenhouses.

“We are putting the technology in the hands of the farmers to ensure that production increases.  Together the ministry and farmers move agriculture in the right direction of resilient livelihoods and improved production technologies,” said Mr. Stanley, who further stated that with the construction of the Pack House Facility and Storage Shed at Tabernacle Outreach Center and the renovation at the Basseterre Public Market, post-harvest losses will be reduced and that will result in more of the farmers’ products reaching the local market.

St. Kitts he said once only had one chill facility at La Guerite, now there are three at La Guerite, three at the Public Market and soon one will be installed at the Tabernacle Outreach Center.

“There are also two newly-installed freezers for the livestock industry, one each at the Abattoir and Public Market. If these aren’t steps in the right direction to improve farmer productivity through reduced post-harvest loss, then I do not know what is,” Mr. Stanley asked.

He said that the recent handing over of the Agro-Processing Unit from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, speaks well for the agro-processing industry.

“Agro processing serves well as an ideal solution to rainy season production, glut markets by adding value while maintaining the nutritional content of the product. Now that the people of St. Kitts are the owners of the Agro-Processing Unit, there is no excuse really for us not enjoying locally grown and produced snacks all year.  This is the key really to agricultural development; ownership of technologies,” said Mr. Stanley.

The senior agricultural officer pointed out that the strengthening of linkages with the education sector and agriculture was vital for the Federation’s development.

He said that the Department of Agriculture launched an effort to rejuvenate school gardens and twelve primary schools on St. Kitts have benefitted from assistance from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and extension services.

“Over 1200 pupils have since been exposed to basic agriculture and Good Agriculture Practices,” said Mr. Stanley.

On the importance of agriculture and education linkages, Mr. Stanley said the display on exhibit is the Farm to Fork Programme which is a regional programme involving Ministries of Health, Education and Agriculture.

“Promoting the idea of eating local, eating what we grow are the main goals of the farm to fork programme.  The project ran through test schools that had a specialized School Meal’s Modified Menu.  St. Kitts has shown remarkable success and the Ministry welcomes the day when every child would be provided a lunch made entirely of locally grown and locally processed food which is not only tasty but nutritious.  The Farm to Fork Programme is on display today,” said the Permanent Secretary, who disclosed that there will be forty institutions from Government and private sector displaying the linkages between their institutions and agriculture.

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