The only constant in this life is change, there are times and seasons and I’m sure most of you know that the good book says there is a time for everything.
It is now a well-accepted fact that the effects of global warming and climate change have affected food production negatively. This Territory must focus our plans for the agricultural sector on ensuring that our farming mechanisms become more scientific and proficient to ensure that the industry remains viable and competitive. The trend in decreasing yields in food production globally has made it mandatory for most countries to employ counteractive measures to stall this decline, and this can be done by improving production techniques and the use of various technologies to boost their agricultural sector.
As I take a look around here this morning, and I reminisce a little bit, I can see with my mind’s eye the number of farmers and former farmers who are either present or not present, the people who kept our farming and agricultural industry going. I also well remember as a teenager growing up in the Long Look, Josiah’s Bay area that when you heard about exhibition that it was a bit thing, because you were planning for it for weeks. In fact, I remember that my late grandfather, who I spent most of my teenagers around, that Mr. Braithwaite’s father used to travel from that other side of the world, to come to Josiah’s Bay to purchase cattle to be able to continue the whole question of the industry. That is important because in his remarks, Mr. Braithwaite made reference to the fact from whence we’ve come. We have got to understand it if we are going to perspective and understand where we are going.
According to the World Population Clock and the US Government Census the world’s population is currently seven (7) billion. There is an estimated 1.3 billion in the world who are living in poverty. The reports published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) tell us that “a total of 842 million people between 2011 and 2013. If you do that math it means one in eight people in the world, were estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger meaning that they are not getting enough food to conduct an active life.” Since 1990 to 1992, the total number of undernourished has fallen, however, by 17 percent. According to the World Bank, 4.6 percent of Latin America and the Caribbean, we, are also living in poverty.
It is the mandate of the Department of Agriculture to develop sustainable food production systems and attain a level of food security as a backup mechanism to imported foods. Since the Department of Agriculture is charged with the responsibility of nurturing food production, the department must devise ways and means to encourage local food production.
However, as our theme, “Youth in Agriculture - a Must! Food Security and Cultural Sustainability - a Plus” indicates, none of this will be possible if our young people are not prepared and trained to assume their roles as leaders to ensure that both our agriculture and our culture is sustained and indeed it continues to thrive.
I would have to pause here to acknowledge the theme of Farmers’ Week because you might have missed when it was said that the person whose theme was chose, was a member of the Ministry of Education and Culture and she passed away prematurely last week. So, I think we just want to in her honour give her a round of applause for her having won this, this year.
In 2015, the Centre for Professional Development and Community Education (C.P.D.C.E) of the Hamilton Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) responded to the needs in the agricultural sector and is now offering many courses that support and develop Agriculture, Culture and Sustainability. Subsequently one of the ways the Department through the Ministry has devised to train youth is through the operation of the long-awaited Greenhouse Project. Currently there are three greenhouses made up of seven entities and it has been agreed that IBT, the current owners of the Intellectual property, will complete all of the greenhouses.
Upon completion the Government is to negotiate with the IBT Group to operate one of the greenhouses, (which is one-third of the greenhouses) and this will be used, from the Government’s point, as a laboratory. What that means is that using their expertise, the scientific knowledge of greenhouses, they will operate one of the greenhouses for a period of time. The H. L. Stoutt Community College will provide the basis for that expertise to be transferred. We will also use it as a laboratory for teaching students from the Virgin Islands Technical Vocational School to be able to learn the technology behind the greenhouses. You would have heard the Minister for Education at the opening of that school, emphasise the fact they we are going to be teach Agricultural Science. Another one-third, will be used for local farmers, individuals who are interested in producing food using the technology of the greenhouses. It is important to understand that you don’t need a big space to produce a large amount of food. We envision and are also encouraging those who have the expertise to produce flowers. Because the greenhouses that you see up there should be able to produce all the flowers that we need and we won’t have to further import flowers. That helps to stimulate that industry and to build the industry where not only jobs but entrepreneurship can be encouraged. Then the other one-third will be leased to a company through a local entity, in which they will operate it to produce food for local consumption, and we hope, for export.
We look forward to the use of this technology to intrigue, educate and stimulate the youths of the community through the necessary training and coursework in crop production. The greenhouses are well on their way to completion and this development shines great potential on the industry. It is important that we learn to interpret agriculture and regard it as the scientific discipline that it has always been. With the change in times recognising and applying new technology is the clear and unmistakable way forward.
Now we have taken quite a fair amount of time in a very deliberate way to get to this position in where we are with the greenhouses because we want to make sure that the foundation that is established will lead way into the future.
Hopefully, by this time next year, when we have Agricultural Exhibition and Farmers’ Week, we should see large amounts of food from the greenhouses. Food is only as secure as our ability to produce it for ourselves and while trade is a reliable source, we must ensure that as much of our food supply as possible is grown and produced locally. The plant nursery at the Department is now stocked with a variety of early bearing fruit trees and seedlings ready to be planted. It is of strategic importance that we deliberately plan how we will develop and sustain agriculture. And at this point I would like to encourage all those, who have “green-thumbs” and love planting to plant one or two fruit trees around your houses in a few years we will have more fruits than we can all consume. Towards this end, we must face up to the following issues:
Ensure that our young people are prepared to farm using state of the art techniques to produce food that is healthy, affordable, sustainable and culturally relevant
Identify and tackle the strategic problems facing the department and the agricultural sector
We must raise agricultural production
We must improve the services that we provide to all farmers, whether using traditional means or new technological food production methods
We must strive to reduce production input costs
That is important because one of the things that we have sought to do as a Government is to embody the whole concept of food security for these Virgin Islands. We have worked tirelessly to improve our fishing industry. And I think we have made great strides in that arena. We have improved the services provided at the fishing complex and I want to thank the Leader-of-the-Opposition publically for his continued support in the work that we are doing with the fishing industry. We are encouraging more and more of our farmers, now, to get involved in deep-see fishing and long-line. We now understand and recognise the potential. So using our fishing industry to bring the fish to market and the greenhouses to produce the fruits, vegetables and other food sources that we need, we see the potential for food security, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation as being “in the reach” of these Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands can become a beacon to show how it can be done. Just doing it one step at a time. It is extremely important that we work hand in hand to ensure that ultimately we can produce. We have the fish we just need to bring it. We now have the greenhouses; we just need to get them finished so that they can produce the food that we know that they are capable of producing.
The department and the farming sector will have to find ways and means to combat the challenges of diseases, high production cost, cheaper food imports and variations in climatic conditions to continue to produce food locally.
I want to underscore the point that the Chairman just made about Climate Change because it seems like we have not really understood that Climate Change is real. If you have any doubts, you can look at the news coming out of the United States in the last week about the blizzard that has taken over the North Eastern United States. Record amounts of snow have been falling on the New England States. Against the background of the droughts that have taken place in many places in the world and that of increasingly difficult times ahead with respect to hurricanes that are likely to be worse than we have ever seen. We have to come to terms with the idea that Climate Change is upon us and everything that we can do to mitigate against is extremely important. There is no sense that we live in our small corner and think that Climate Change is only something that will affect bigger countries because all of the studies, all of the science behind Climate Change clearly show that it is small countries, the island-states, that are going to be hit the most, the most affected by the variants of Climate Change. I have travelled far and wide helping to raise the anthem with respect to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and what needs to be done to protect the island communities throughout the world. Whether you live in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean Sea or the Pacific, once you live on an island you are going to be affected by Climate Change. Rising sea-levels is a reality. Anyone of us, understands that if the sea-level rises and it destroys our beaches and coastlines, it will have severe impacts on our economy and our tourism industry. To mitigate against those wider industries we have to do the things that are necessary and one of the things that we can do is in the area of food security. We can do it. All of us, working together, can ensure that no matter how these climatic changes evolve we will be able to take care of ourselves and I am sure we will be able to help take care of others around us.
I take this opportunity to applaud the Chief Agricultural Officer, and his Team for their consistent hard work in developing this critical industry. At this time I’d also like to celebrate the fact that we now have two young, female, local, veterinary doctors that have been added to the Department: Dr. Nadya George and Dr. Latisha Martin! Their interest, and commitment in the field, I believe, is noteworthy, and I thank them for their willingness and the efforts that they have made to give back to the Virgin Islands community.
I want to express a heart-felt, “Thank You!’ to our farmers, those especially who have been involved in the traditional farming for sustaining the sector despite the economic challenges. And we have had some challenges here at Paraquita Bay, with respect to water and we just about have it completely sorted out. All those who are accustomed to doing the farming here will be happier to know that water will be in constant supply. We want to thank them for their continued commitment to keeping the industry alive. I wish to thank all those who have contributed thus far for the coming-in-to-being of Farmers’ Week, once again and for the continued success of our farming industry.
It is my pleasure, at this time, to declare Farmers’ Week officially open.
I thank you. God bless you and may God continue to bless these Virgin Islands.