Government is concerned about St. Lucia’s annual food import bill of over EC$350 million which it says represents a “significant imbalance” in what St. Lucians grow and eat.
Agriculture Minister Moses Jn Baptiste made the disclosure in his World Food Day message in which he has called for action at the national level to reverse the increasing reliance on imported food to feed the nation.
“Much of what we eat comes from imported foods… Much of these imported processed foods are known to contribute to the many illnesses and diseases affecting our people,” he said.
“The call to action is for all institutions, all government departments, all families. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food Production, Fisheries and Rural Development will play a major and leading role in this call to action role and is vigorously trying to improve its position to tackle the issue of food and nutrition security for St. Lucia,” the parliamentary representative for Vieux Fort North said.
In his message, Minister Jn Baptiste revealed his ministry’s plans to tackle the nation’s agricultural challenges. These include:
* Finalizing the restructuring of the ministry so that our focus will be creating successful agribusinesses at the farm and co operative levels;
* Complete the drafting of a long overdue food and nutrition policy which will receive input from other agencies – health in particular. In this regard we are nearing completion of a national food production action plan which will be revealed to the public by December 1;
* New focus on farmer/fisher co-operatives to improve their operations and to foster an integrated rural development focus;
* Making marketing of our local food a focal starting point in the planning of our food system;
* Create a system of land allocation to serious interested farmers so that we may expand on our production;
* Focus on sustainability and low external input systems;
* Finding creative ways to stimulate growth in the livestock sub-sector, especially in ruminants;
* The expansion of the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurial Programe to encourage young people to be involved in agricultural production;
* The building of an agricultural diagnostic facility to address research regarding crops, livestock and fish production;
* A disaster risk reduction project to address risk mitigation measures in agriculture and to establish a system for the long-term sustainable management of Black Sigatoka in plantains and bananas;
*An agri-enterprise facilitation project to encourage value added activities in agriculture.
The minister these “developmental efforts are expected, over time, to contribute to everyone having access to sufficient and affordable quality food on a daily basis because St. Lucia as a sovereign state has a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger, even in times of natural or other disasters”.
He added: “In essence, our cooperatives and associations must play a more significant role in fighting hunger, which is the most extreme form of poverty, where individuals or families cannot afford to meet their most basic need for food.”