STATEMENT BY MINISTER OF EDUCATION, CULTURE,
YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
ON THE PERFORMANCE OF VIRGIN ISLANDS
DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO WHEATLEY
DURING THE ELEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE
FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, AUGUST 12, 2020
UPDATE ON AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES
Thank you Mister Speaker.
Today I rise to update this Honourable House on the Ministry’s ongoing work to support the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
“Restore, Increase, Sustain and Educate”, abbreviated as “RISE”, was the theme of a successful Farmers and Fishers’ Week 2021.
As it captures so simply our approach to revitalising the farming and fishing sectors, we have decided to continue using this theme as we move forward to build these industries.
Mister Speaker, we know that farming on the Paraquita Bay Estate has not been at an optimal level. Farming activity on the Estate has been in decline mostly due to years of neglect of the sector.
To this end, my Ministry is assembling an agricultural management committee, who will be tasked with the mandate of reviewing existing agricultural uses at Paraquita Bay and recommending the way forward.
We are also working closing with the Town and Country Planning Department, the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, the Lands and Survey Department, and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration to ensure that the Estate is properly planned out and developed in an orderly manner; taking all the key stakeholders into consideration as we move forward.
In order for our work on the Estate to yield results that we can all be proud of, we recognise that it must be done right, and so we are taking all the necessary steps to ensure that we have a solid foundation moving forward.
For many years there have been challenges with the supply of water to the farms at Paraquita Bay. Thanks to the hard-working team at the Water and Sewerage Department, earlier this year, they were able to make additional water available from Sabbath Hill reservoir through Spring Ghut.
In spite of their efforts, farmers are still not receiving a consistent supply of water at adequate water pressure levels to their farms.
Recognising this, I have asked my team to begin the process of seeking to restore some of the wells at Paraquita Bay.
At the same time, we will work toward establishing a dedicated reservoir to supply water to the farms.
We have already obtained estimates to undertake the works and will be identifying the funding source in the coming weeks.
I recognise, that this has been a challenging time for some farmers, especially now that we are in the summer months, but I continue to ask for their patience as we seek to supplement the existing water supply.
In addition to the Paraquita Bay Estate, infrastructural recovery for the Agricultural Station in Virgin Gorda was identified as one of this Government’s priorities.
Late last year, we purchased an office trailer, that now sits on land in Virgin Gord, that will become the new Virgin Gorda Agriculture and Fisheries Substation. The trailer will soon be commissioned, restoring our office location on Virgin Gorda and providing a much-needed office base for our Virgin Gorda agricultural and fisheries staff.
The Ministry is also pursuing the designation of additional lands for agriculture and fisheries with the assistance of the Minstry of Natural Resources Labour and Immigration.
We expect additional lands for agriculture to be opened up, particularly on our sister islands of Virgin Gorda and Anegada, as we work to increase agricultural production throughout the Territory.
As we work to restore and increase, we recognise that our fishers have been without a Fishing Complex since 2017.
As mentioned previously in this Honourable House, we are advancing the development of an agriculture and fisheries complex in Paraquita Bay, to serve as a full-service marketing facility for fishers and farmers.
These plans are now well underway as the architectural plans have been developed, and we are now awaiting the submission of detailed construction documents.
We do recognise, however, that the site location of the Complex may present a challenge to fishers as it will be situated inland.
We are, therefore, simultaneously undertaking a planning exercise for the infrastructural development of a network of fisheries landing sites throughout the Virgin Islands.
There are a number of traditional sites already in existence, but they are in dire need of infrastructure that can support the activities of the fishing sector.
We envision fishers being able to comfortably land their fish for collection in these locations, and where appropriate, access ice, refrigeration, water, and other amenities.
The first location, slated for infrastructural improvement is the Omar Hodge Fisherman’s Wharf. I will update our fishers and this Honourable House as plans progress in this area.
As we seek to rise in education, I am pleased to report that earlier this year; we established an Agricultural Advisory Committee at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.
From the onset of the development of the College as could be seen in the principal legislation, it was envisioned that agriculture would be an area in which the college would develop training.
While there was previously a programme offered at the college, it has been dormant due to lack of enrollment.
The College is now embarking on a new thrust as it seeks to develop programming in degrees for transfer and short courses for farmers and interested parties in the community.
The Committee, which is chaired by Mr. William Georges, a retired Agricultural Scientist, represents a broad spectrum of expertise, experience and perspectives in agriculture as it relates to the Virgin Islands. Other members of the Committee include:
College officials – Dr. Arlene Smith-Thompson; Mrs. Marva Wheatley-Dawson, and Mrs. Veronique Forbes-King;
Ministry officials – Mrs. Carolyn Stoutt Igwe and Mrs. Tessa Smith-Claxton;
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries officials – Mr. Theodore James, Mr. Orville Clarke, Dr. Latisha Martin and Ms. Lesley Maduro;
Farming community – Mrs. Arona Fahie-Forbes and Ms. Nea Talbot; and the
Wholesale industry – Mr. Neil Hayes.
The role of the Advisory Committee is as follow:
1. To advise the College on strategic direction in the area of agricultural training, research, and programming;
2. To review documents and resources, including past programming and future proposals related to agriculture;
3. Make recommendations regarding the College’s offerings in the area of agriculture in line with the Territory’s needs and expectations; and
4. Provide guidance regarding the delivery of any offerings of training and/or certification.
The Committee has already proposed outlines for a number of relevant short courses in areas such as Agroecology, Integrated Pest Management, Crops, and Animals Agroecology and is working closely with an overseas university to make some of their online courses available to the local community. The local courses will involve theoretical as well as practical aspects.
We recognise the importance of building capacity in this sector, Mr. Speaker, and are eagerly looking forward to the commencement of these courses in the coming months.
In another area of rising in education, my Ministry is also forging a close relationship with the Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus and will be exposing members of staff in the Ministry and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to some short courses between September to November 2021 to build capacity to support the agricultural and fisheries sectors.
Earlier in this year, in the weeks leading up to Farmers and Fishers’ Week, we launched some educational videos, titled Agri-Fish tour, where we showcased some of our farmers and fishers in the Territory.
We have a number of farmers and fishers who have been making significant contributions to these sectors over the years, so we believe that it is important to continue to showcase their contributions.
Therefore, beginning next week, we will continue our Agri-Fish tours as we continue to highlight some of the Territory’s stalwarts and educate the public about the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
The Government embraces the statement from the 1996 World Food Summit Plan of Action that “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” That is why one of our priorities is the drafting of a national food production policy.
This requires analysing the types and levels of food production, harvest and importation and will include an inventory/registration drive for farmers/farms and fishermen to determine their numbers and the level and types of food/fish being produced and harvested.
In the coming days, my Ministry, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, will be launching an agricultural production survey to better understand the type of agricultural production and quantities present in the Territory.
This information will provide valuable insights as we continue to support the development of local food production.
I, therefore, appeal to all farmers, whether commercial, semi-commercial, or backyard gardeners, to participate in this important exercise.
The data from this survey will provide some necessary baseline data for the Department and serve as a precursor to site visits to farmers throughout the Territory in September as we seek to gain additional information for the development of the policy.
The Department will also use this opportunity to gather relevant information to restore extension services to the agricultural sector.
Mister Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity.