REMARKS BY DEPUTY PREMIER AND MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
AT THE SIXTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, 4TH MARCH, 2021
UPDATE ON THE AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES SECTORS
Good Day and God’s blessings Mister Speaker.
In April 2020, I stood in this honourable House and informed the people of these Virgin Islands about the economic stimulus for fishers and farmers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr Speaker, I am pleased that Cabinet saw it fit to approve this stimulus, and I would like to take this time to thank our Honourable Premier and his team for administering this stimulus to fishers and farmers across the Territory.
Mr. Speaker, I have spoken several times about the need to be intentional in our efforts to build our agriculture and fisheries industries, and we continue to make every effort to do so. Progress has been slow in some aspects, Mr Speaker, but we continue to persevere.
In January, we held a meeting with our fishers and farmers and a combined total of over 200 fishers and farmers were in attendance. Mr Speaker, it was truly heartening to see our people turn out in these numbers and express such passion and commitment to these sectors. Many persons have “returned to the ground” and there is a vibrant community of backyard gardeners across the Territory. People are searching for land to undertake farming on a larger scale, and there is a renewed interest in our fishing industry, especially among younger persons. Mr Speaker, we have to harness this momentum and provide solid and sustained support for these sectors.
Mr Speaker, you have heard me speak before of our intention to establish a statutory body to focus solely on the business and regulation of the agriculture and fishing industries. To this end, Mr Speaker, we spent most 2020 in consultation with various groups concerning the establishment of this body. An initial draft of the Agriculture and Fisheries Marketing Authority Bill was prepared and approved by Cabinet to undergo final drafting by the Attorney General’s Chambers. Once the final draft is complete, it will be taken to Cabinet for final approval before it is laid in the House of Assembly. I encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with this Bill and weigh in as much as possible. I have had persons involved in fishing and farming visit me to discuss various aspects of the Bill and I welcome this type of open dialogue. The only way forward is together.
Mr Speaker this Authority will be responsible for the re-establishment of what was once the BVI Fishing Complex. The intention is to repurpose this Complex to include agricultural produce and other value-added goods from local farmers and fishers. Mr Speaker we are excited about this vision and see this as a necessary step to support our fishing and farming community and other industries connected to these sectors such as tourism.
Fisheries, Mr Speaker, is a priority in the Territory's blue economy, and we recognize the importance of this sector's sustainability. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has received support in collaboration with regional and international bodies to strengthen the Department's capacity for data capture, research and monitoring.
Our Virgin Gorda sub-station, Mr Speaker has been out of commission for some time. Agriculture and Fisheries staff on Virgin Gorda have been without office accommodation since the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria! I am therefore pleased to share that a custom built office trailer is on the island, and we expect to provide services to our fishers and farmers in Virgin Gorda from that new location within the coming months.
Mr Speaker, farmers continue to face frustrating water woes on the Paraquita Bay Estate. Leaking pipes and indiscriminate water use when it is available are some major issues we are facing in this area. With the assistance of my honourable colleague and his team at the Ministry of Transportation, Works and Utilities, we are working on upgrading the ageing infrastructure on the Estate. Major works will include carrying out comprehensive repairs to the water distribution system and installing hillside tanks that can supply water on the Estate when the main supply is unavailable.
Other major works in Paraquita Bay include the reconstruction of the animal pound to alleviate some issues we face with free-roaming animals and the damage they can cause to properties throughout the Territory.
Finally Mr Speaker, I am also pleased to inform this honourable house that plans are afoot to host a Farmers' and Fishers' Exhibition and Market Day on 24th April, 2021 under the theme, “Restore, Increase, Sustain and Educate (RISE”). Mr Speaker, we will all appreciate that resources are very limited, and we are very mindful that precautions to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID19 are still very much in place. We do, however, think that it is important to highlight the work of the agriculture and fisheries sectors and look forward to everyone's support and participation as much as is possible. Mister Speaker, I will also be announcing plans for Fishermen’s Day very soon.
Mr Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to update this honourable House and look forward to providing future updates as we continue in our efforts to empower these sectors.