Seeds of hope

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Let’s face it, the unique taste, appeal, and quality of our local fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat, are factors that lead to their increased demand by consumers at home and abroad, and are practical reasons for our leaders to demonstrate tangible support by dedicating more resources to Antigua & Barbuda’s agricultural sector.

We are putting on our consumer hat as well as that of residents who would like to see the country corner a bigger share of the export market (and significantly reduce its food import bill in the process), by saying that we are heartened by last week’s post-Cabinet announcement, which disclosed that the government will be allocating funds to address the litany of issues that have been plaguing local farmers for years.

But we do not think that we could be more overjoyed than the men and women who are the employers and employees within the sector, who are resolute that they will not bend, bow or break, despite the growing list of setbacks that they encounter on a daily basis.

For farmers in the twin island state have definitely been facing an uphill battle as they strive to maintain that all-important role in keeping the country on track to achieving food security, and reduce hunger.

Farming is an occupation that many people would balk at, mainly because it entails hard, hard work. So we believe that anyone who decides to pursue that profession is innately gentle, patient and kind — characteristics that are ideal for nurturing plants and caring for animals.

We highly commend our hard-working farmers who have not abandoned their true purpose and toil from dawn till dusk to coax a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from a drought-stricken land, and persist in raising goats, pigs and cattle, seemingly for the benefit of poachers.

Frustrating as they are, drought and praedial larceny are not the only bane of the farmers’ lot. We have heard their cries of despair over the years as they lament the destruction caused by invasive pests such as the Giant African Snail, diseases such as citrus greening, and roving bands of predatory dogs.

But to get back to the announcement that planted hope in the hearts of present and future agriculturalists, and which came weeks after a forum in which agriculture officials faced the ire of hundreds of frustrated farmers who accused them of neglecting the vital sector.

The government, then, promised the farmers that their concerns would be addressed, and the recent development is an indication that they, too, hope to depart from the “business as usual” stance.

If government really keeps its promise to answer the “Farmer’s Prayer” and provide water for their thirsty farmlands and paddocks, we can already visualise the large numbers of hopeful school leavers who, through their Agricultural Sciences classes have developed the love for growing and nurturing plants and animals, will be encouraged to start their own businesses.

There is hope because, over the past decade or so, the Agricultural Science programme in secondary schools has expanded to such an extent that schools have been meeting the local demand for eggs and broilers, which is critical to conveying the importance of agriculture, as a business, to young people. But we are a long way off from producing the amount of chicken to meet the local demand.

In local parlance, the promise of fertiliser, seeds, better secondary roads to access the farms, and storage, would be “broughta” (welcomed extras) when compared to seeing the end of the headache caused by lack of water, but they are very important to the whole scheme of things, so we will continue to live in hope.

Hope was also instilled in our health-conscious population who appreciate the benefits of coconut water, as the government also announced plans to replenish the country’s coconut palm industry (which fell victim to the lethal yellowing disease) by planting of 50,000 coconut seeds that are resistant to the disease.

The sister isle has not been left out as plans are also in the pipeline to resume growing peanuts on Barbuda.

Although the announcement did not include a timeframe within which the promises will become realities (except a 14-day window to receive proposals to erect chill units), we will remain hopeful that having raised our expectations, the government will move with haste to implement its improvements the efficiency of this very important sector.

We highly anticipate the spin-off effects once the promises are realised, which include increasing our food society, boosting private sector employment, and empowering people to be their own bosses.

We sincerely hope that our hopes will not be dashed.

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