Must spitting at the sky remain a national preoccupation?

The blame game is not a constructive exercise. It must, however, be clear to all that the UWP Ministry of Agriculture failed to monitor, control and eradicate the Black Sigatoka disease that was first observed in December 2009 and confirmed in January 2010. Sadly, it seems the present SLP administration is equally inept in the face of this national disaster.
The Agriculture Minister Moses Jean Baptiste reports that the government of St Lucia is preparing to unveil a “robust plan” to fight the Black Sigatoka disease which has been ravaging the country’s agriculture sector, particularly the banana industry. The plan includes Cabinet-approved aid for affected farmers, a public awareness campaign and the destruction of abandoned farms where the disease is prevalent. How “robust!”
The Minister, who recently returned from Costa Rica where reportedly he sought advice and assistance, added: “We are hoping that the eradication of the inactive and abandoned fields will give us some relief in relation to the spread of the Black Sigatoka disease.” In several weeks’ time, he said, the Ministry will host a major consultation where
industry partners will be invited to discuss various issues and chart the way forward for the banana sector in the context of the sustainable remodeling of the industry.
In the past 15 years there has been a drastic decline in the number of plantations. There were some 12,000 farms in 1998. But by the time Kenny Anthony’s government was voted out of office in 2006, the number was down to 2000—a decline of over 83 percent.  That number fell even further in the wake of Hurricane Thomas, in November 2010. Presently, it is estimated that a mere 400 farmers are scraping a living from bananas.
According the Minister of Agriculture: “Our government is new. Our priority is not the medium or long term, but to obtain assistance so we can eradicate the disease that affects bananas and
increases poverty by destroying our exports and complicating our rural development efforts.”
So why has the minister not requested help from the experts at hand? The Taiwanese have a technical mission that possesses all the knowledge, money and other resources necessary to fight the disease but, perhaps because of the intransigence of a Prime Minister who thinks and works in mysterious ways, the mission is forced to remain a passive spectator while the country’s agriculture sinks daily deeper into ruin. Talk about Nero fiddling while Rome burns!
By his own revelation, the minister was impressed by what he saw at an organic farm in Costa Rica, where crops are used to feed poultry, cattle, goats and pigs, and waste to generate biogas. He also met with his counterpart Gloria Abraham, with whom “horizontal cooperation” was negotiated. Now here’s a term to titillate idle minds!
It was agreed that a delegation from Saint Lucia would attend the next congress of producers, at the end of February in San Jose, to explore the possibility of technical assistance aimed at eradicating Black Sigatoka. So, in the face of an emergency, St Lucia’s new government takes refuge in the age-old remedy of travelling to see what others are doing, attending conferences, setting up committees and generally rushing around appearing to be busy whilst avoiding
the serious issues at hand. As a friend of mine enjoys pointing out: “The more things change . . .”
Again I ask: “What’s wrong with accessing the best technical assistance in the world, currently available right here in St. Lucia? Why must we cut our noses to spite our faces by not inviting the Taiwanese to help us out of this dilemma?”
The Minister of Agriculture has emphasized the need for the island to develop small ruminant farming, as a way to diversify its agricultural activities and guarantee small-scale producers sufficient income. So, I ask  again: “Why has the government not requested aid and assistance similar to that which Taiwan gave immediately after Hurricane Tomas?”
At that time, Taiwan provided plants and seeds for hundreds of thousands of dollars to farmers to enable them to grow cash crops that, in a very short time, provided the necessary income for them to survive, and filled our supermarket shelves with high quality home-grown produce. Is it not time for the Prime Minister set aside petty political squabbles in the greater interest of St Lucia’s immediate economic future? Must he wait until there is nothing left to save?
In the face of this impending banana-related economic disaster, why has Taiwanese aid not been requested? Why have farmers not received the assistance they so desperately need? Why are they not able to receive the seeds and plants that would ease their economic woes and make them self-sufficient? Why does the minister of Agriculture not seek to utilize the millions and millions of Taiwanese aid dollars set aside for St Lucia since the first of January?
All but 100 days have passed since the election that returned Dr Anthony to power. Where are the promised jobs? Where are the 100 million dollars that he promised would be pumped into the economy “immediately” upon his election victory? Why? Why? Why? So many questions to be answered.Why not create jobs in agriculture? Why not subsidize farm workers so that each farmer could employ at least one new worker for a year? Would not STEP workers be better occupied clearing the
fields of diseased plants and helping the farmers than cutting grass in the dry season?
The worst of times brings out the worst and best in humanity. Let’s
make sure this time that St Lucia rises from the ashes of burned down plantations, and tat once again agriculture flourishes. We have friends  standing by who are eager to help. Let’s not look another gift horse in the mouth!

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