Almost a decade of confusion appears to have been resolved in what has become widely known as the Augier Combined-Poultry Farm impasse. On Wednesday August 23 the Government of St Lucia officially handed over two acres of land in Laborie to one of the island’s largest poultry farmers in an effort to put an end to the long running dispute between the parties.
For years parents and school officials claim the unpleasant odor from nearby farms had caused illnesses among the students who attend the Augier Combined School. School officials say they also had to cope with routine fly infestations and other health hazards. But the owners of the nearby poultry establishments were adamant that closure was not a viable option as it would significantly impact on their livelihoods.
In attendance at the handing over ceremony was Prime Minster Stephenson King, Health and Wellness Minster Keith Mondesir, Agriculture Minister Ezekiel Joseph, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Eustace Monrose and MP for Laborie Alva Baptiste.
Minister Joseph called the occasion a significant one and indicated that the relocation was made possible by a collaborative approach by his ministry and that of the Ministry of Health and also the Ministry of Education. He admitted that Cabinet realized something had to be done but “in a manner that will not affect our drive to self sufficiency and food security. That meant keeping the farmers in production even while we assist them in relocation,” Joseph said.
He believes agriculture is critical to St Lucia especially in the rural areas. As such, he pledged his commitment to the remaining farmers near the Augier school saying they will be given due consideration and support in relocating as well.
Speaking to the Laborie MP directly Joseph said, “I heard and understood your pleas on behalf of your residents and I agree with you. We need to look at the whole aspect of agriculture, the whole aspect of development and the whole aspect of policy with respect to land zoning. What we are realizing is that most of our farmers who started off in remote areas are now being pushed out because of development.”
Joseph encouraged all poultry farmers to use best practices, especially now that the government is working towards certifying eggs.
According to Joseph, the Ministry of Agriculture spent $150,000 towards this project, the National Development Corporation played their part by leasing the land and the farmer had to invest capital to make the property what it is today. Said Joseph, “It was a costly venture but we believe it will contribute to the continued development of agriculture.”
Prime Minister Stephenson King said Baptiste “drew to our attention the need for a proper land use plan that will allow us to utilize available lands in an appropriate manner to allow all of us to live and work in the same environment. The National Vision Plan which the government launched some four years ago is intended to address these very issues in a very methodical manner specific to our overall social and economic development.”
The prime minister is hoping to expedite the relocation of the remaining far mers.
Government officials have denied that they are transferring the problem from one location to another and refute allegations that there is a housing scheme near the new location.
For his part, Alva Baptiste said, “My youngest child goes to the Augier Combined School. I believe that this matter should have been resolved through the PTA and not in a political fashion. When I went to the meetings and saw the mood of certain parents, I felt that I should not increase the specific gravity of their
anger but hold back on whatever political value there may be. The feeling is bittersweet as the situation could have been resolved earlier.”