St. Vincent and the Grenadines is headed in the wrong direction. We have witnessed an unprecedented decline in our economic, social, political, moral and physical conditions. Our decaying physical infrastructure, roads, bridges, schools, public buildings, health facilities and police stations are in plain view for all to see. It seems not to matter to those in government that repairing and maintaining public infrastructure would create jobs and grow the economy.
Despite the importance of agriculture to the economy of this country, the government has systematically diminished the agricultural sector. The ill-advised policies of the government have forced many established farmers out of agriculture, and vast areas of formerly highly productive land are now abandoned. Even a cursory examination of our rural areas reveals a deteriorating situation, where large sections of land, previously deemed part of the national food-basket, are now under-utilized.
As agricultural production declined, our food imports have skyrocketed, worsening our balance of trade position and bringing social ills, in the form of lifestyle diseases, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer; driven by consumption of imported processed foods. These health problems have now reached alarming proportions. Meanwhile, inadequate investment in the health services has compounded the problem, so that our country today has a greater need for health care services but reduced capacity to deliver them. The well-being of our people is declining, and ordinary folk fear the day that they might end up at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.
Poor policy decisions and mismanagement in one area can have negative knock-on effects in others and make bad situations worse. But, the story of underperformance of our economy does not stop there. The other consequences of poor economic policymaking and management are also in plain view of Vincentians: high and ever-increasing taxes, the lowest wages in the OECS, massive unemployment and high government debt.
Many businesses have been forced to close their operations and building contractors are afraid to do business with the government. The result has been more unemployment and a worsening of our economic crisis, further exacerbated by a virtually crippled indigenous financial sector.
Further, poverty has increased significantly under the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government. The poverty report that was shelved by the government concluded that poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is worse than when the ULP gained power in 2001. It stated that poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines moved from 30.2% of the population in 2008 to 36.1 % in 2018. And, the indigence level had moved from 2.9% to 11.3% in the country of 110,000 people.
Crime is on the rise. There is a rapid increase of homicides for the year. On Tuesday April 25, 2023, another young man lost his life through gun violence. His death has brought the homicide count in St. Vincent and the Grenadines thirteen (13) for the year. Undoubtedly, we are headed in the wrong direction. Are these killings caused by young men to mind high maintenance women?
Agriculture –A Pillar of Economic Development
One of the pillars of our economic development is agriculture. The New Democratic Party (NDP) will reverse this deteriorating situation by revitalizing the agricultural sector, making it efficient, technologically prepared and internationally competitive. This will guarantee the food and nutrition security of our people and at the same time provide employment, income and sustainable livelihoods, while preserving the environment for present and future generations.
The overall goal of the NDP’s National Agricultural Policy will be to optimize and maximize our capacity to provide for our food needs. This will be done through increasing production of a range of crops and livestock species, as well as fish and related by-products. This will ensure a sustainable and efficient food security system that is technologically driven.
Livestock is a key part of farming in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A substantive amount of root crop, vegetable and tree crop farmers own livestock. The NDP will support efforts to improve the health and productivity of livestock, particularly chickens, goats, sheep, pigs and cattle by improving animal genetics and veterinary care.
While it was commonplace to use chemicals indiscriminately for food production, it is now time for a new approach to farming with less chemical dependency. Sustainable organic farming will be considered. The NDP will encourage farmers to ensure that their methods of cultivation are not harmful to the environment. Tax and Custom Duty concessions will be made available to organic farmers. We will also reintroduce the Credit System, making it available to all stakeholders in the agro sector. Proper guidelines will be instituted to ensure the system is run effectively to the benefit of all stakeholders.
We all are cognizant of the importance of food security. We will concentrate on the following: focus on ecological conservation and the use of bio-diversity; increase production to satisfy domestic consumption; place emphasis on relevant infrastructure development; conduct appropriate research and development program; encourage household/kitchen gardening; provide subsidies for local agro-producers, processors and marketers; ensure effective land distribution and utilization and reduce dependency on imports.
Feeder roads are essential to improve farmers’ productivity and to access markets. We will upgrade existing roads across our farming communities and build new feeder roads to access more lands. The multiplier effects of feeder roads can never be overstated as access to and from the farm is of paramount importance. We cannot support our farmers if we cannot reach them, or they cannot get their goods easily to market.
And, we will establish a state-operated agro lab that will encourage agro processing. The agro lab will also assist small business enterprises especially those cottage industries that produce such items as pepper sauce, jams and jellies etc. The NDP is committed to revive the agricultural sector as an important pillar of economic development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.