The St. Lucia Employers Federation (SLEF) is calling for the revitalisation of the agriculture sector which it says is key to reducing unemployment.
“We have to generate our own employment because foreign direct investment is not as forthcoming as we would like, and it can be done if we put the emphasis on agriculture,” SLEF executive director Joseph Alexander said in a statement ahead of Tuesday’s budget presentation.
The unemployment rate increased by approximately 1.9 percent to 23.3 percent last year, while the total number of persons unemployed increased from 20,267 to 22,774 during the same period, according to figures released by the Department of Statistics.
Alexander said there was a lot of land in St Lucia lying fallow, especially since an outbreak of Black Sigatoka disease in the banana industry forced some farmers to abandon their plantations.
He also said, “We have to find a way to encourage the almost 2,500 students leaving school every year to work those lands, especially since local tourism plants are saying that they need and would prefer to get produce locally which is cheaper and easier to obtain.”
Alexander said young school leavers could develop agriculture as a business, rather than the old way of “just planting bananas” and that agro-processing is an area that needs development because of the large number of produce, such as mangoes, that usually go to waste.
He said that with a vibrant agro-processing industry, people would get their fruit to the processors because they would be paid to do so.
The SLEF official pointed out that persons currently employed, essentially to clean the roadsides under the Short Term Employment Programme (STEP), could also become involved in the initiative to revitalise agriculture.
Alexander then went on to note, “My argument against STEP has always been that the monies used in the programme could be put towards generating income from agriculture, rather than having people cut grass by the roadside.”
Prime Minister Anthony will deliver the budget statement on May 13 with debate taking place on May 15-16. Last year, Anthony presented an EC$1.32 billion (one EC dollar = US$0.37 cents) budget to Parliament reducing the subsidies on basic food commodities such as rice and flour and increasing the VAT for the hotel industry.