While production of sugar on a commercial basis ceased in St. Kitts in 2005 to provide greater opportunities for expansion in non-sugar agriculture, Prime Minister Dr the Hon Timothy Harris is pointing out the Covid-19 experience has solidified the realisation that the country needs to produce more of what people consume.
“Agriculture has seen a budding revival over the last several years,” said Prime Minister Harris. “The onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic has reminded us of the very important need to be able to feed ourselves.”
The Honourable Prime Minister made the remarks on Tuesday April 20 when he appeared on the popular Leadership Matters on ZIZ Television with four other panellists, where the topic of discussion was ‘agriculture and food security’, which he said was one of most important considerations for the country at this time.
Panellists with Prime Minister Harris on Leadership Matters were Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture et al, Mr Ron Collins; Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Tracy Challenger-Clarke; Technical Specialist, St. Kitts and Nevis IICA Delegation, Ms Sharon Jones; and a longstanding farmer, Mr Winston Morris.
According to the Prime Minister, the Covid-19 experience solidified the realisation that the country needs to produce more of what it consumes. After the Government became cognisant of the fears of the people it responded to protect the population against supply chain being negatively affected by ensuring that it systematically diversified source markets for food including poultry, meat and fish while it aggressively worked to near self-sufficiency in those staples.
“This is why as part of the stimulus package my Government allocated ten million dollars to boost agriculture and agricultural production,” said Dr Harris. “Building on the commitment made to expand our agricultural base, we in our 2021 budget, allocated $5 million to continue the stimulus programme for the agriculture sector.”
The concessions the Team Unity Administration delivered to the sector are bearing fruit as there has seen increased production, and interest in crops, livestock, poultry and fisheries. He pointed out that fisheries output recorded a 3.6 percent increase in 2020 after an 83 percent reduction in output in April 2020, which was a direct consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated curfews and lockdowns, which brought fisheries to a standstill.
“Over the past almost six years, my Administration has given much, and will further increase its support to the sector,” said Dr Harris. “Indeed the 2021 allocation of just over ten million dollars plus a further five million for the stimulus programme represents the largest budgetary allocation to the sector in a very long time.”
Prime Minister Harris said that he understood the vital importance of the sector to the country and economy, and also the challenges. He noted that he appreciated the vast potential of the agricultural sector to contribute to the country’s sustainable growth and development.
He however pointed out that for this to be achieved there must be a focused goal, and a cohesive strategy, and that way the country can produce more and better quality products for the population to consume domestically, and for export. He added that better quality foods lead to improvement in people’s health condition, which in turn should mean lower healthcare costs, as the population’s health is critical to the nation’s wealth.
According to Dr Harris, working together the farmers can create more jobs within the sector, wealth for the people and a source of foreign exchange for the country.
“Before concluding I must again encourage all farmers and fishers to get vaccinated,” said the Honourable Prime Minister. “Do it to minimise the risks of contracting Covid-19 or transmitting Covid-19 to anyone. Do it for yourselves, do it for your families and very importantly do it to put our country on a sustained path to recovery. Do it to facilitate our herd immunity target being realised, which in turn will lead to more business opportunities at our hotels and at other business places.”