The St. Lucia government today, May 6, 2013 signed an agricultural agreement with the European Union (EU) worth about EC$37 million.
The EU funds, which were provided under the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM), are being used to finance the government’s Agricultural Transformation Programme (ATP).
Speaking at today’s signing ceremony, Prime Minister and Minister and Finance, Dr. Kenny Anthony, said the €10.35 million (EC$37 million) is St. Lucia’s share of the €190 million provided by the European Commission to cushion the losses being experienced by ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) countries as a result of the EU’s preferential regime for bananas.
“Today marks another milestone on our journey towards the restructuring of our agricultural sector. This we hope to achieve through specific interventions in a bid to make it more sustainable and competitive for the future,” Dr. Anthony said in his speech entitled ‘Finding our niche in an agricultural resurgence’.
The prime minister said St. Lucia will use the funds over a five-year period (2013-2018), with $5.9 million allocated for this financial year under the ATP, which is divided into four areas.
“The four areas of focus were carefully chosen and are in consonance with the identified needs for modernising the agricultural sector. These needs were identified by the National Adaptation Strategy and the Multi-Annual Support Strategy documents. They all called for a major overhaul of the agricultural sector,” the prime minister pointed out.
He identified the four ATP areas and their estimated budgets as:
* Agri-enterprise youth: $6.7 million
* Agri-enterprise facilitation: $4.8 million
* Disaster risk reduction: $9.5 million
* Research and technology facilitation: $9 million
Under the agri-enterprise youth initiative, Dr. Anthony said over 150 youth will be “intensively trained” to “mould a new cadre of agro-entrepreneurs”.
He said farm equipment will be acquired to encourage mechanised production: “As I understand it, the plan is to train these young farmers to apply the latest technologies to enhance production. The net impact should be a repositioning of our human capital and capacity. I welcome, in particular, the emphasis on technology adaptation.”
The land issue will also be addressed. “Of course, government has already committed that land assets under the Crown that are suitable for agriculture should and will be used for agriculture and so you have that guarantee. The government will also take steps to establish the long championed Land Bank to hold our agricultural resources in trust for future generations,” he said.
In the agri-enterprise facilitation, monies will spent to promote the agribusiness through enhanced marketing and agro-processing capability, the prime minister said.
“There exists opportunities for creating value chains to take products from rural communities and market them for the shelves of supermarkets and hotel kitchens in and out of Saint Lucia. Beyond training, brand development and market facilitation, this programme would also retrofit infrastructure for the creation of at least two incubators for agro-processors,” he explained.
A large portion of the ATP funds will be spent tackling disaster risk in the agricultural sector and promote resilience against vulnerabilities.
Dr. Anthony explained: “We will update our pest and disease management systems, including for the dreaded Black Sigatoka. Changes will also be made to the legal framework to facilitate better management of pest control. This component will also seek to reduce vulnerability by the construction and rehabilitation of much needed and longer lasting agricultural feeder roads as well as the stabilisation of river banks. Other watershed management measures will also be implemented.”
Under the research and technology facilitation component, a large portion of the funds will be used to strengthen St. Lucia’s standards and meet quality requirements.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a critical, yet often unappreciated aspect in developing value chains and enhancing products. We saw the furore in Europe quite recently, over the issue of horse meat in many products being sold as beef. We too need to ensure that we can produce quality goods for the marketplace, both internally and for export,” he noted.
The hallmark project under this programme will be the construction and commissioning of a National Diagnostic Facility at Union. Work is expected to begin this financial year, Dr. Anthony said.
“The hope is that the diagnostic facility will serve as a one-stop shop, providing the range of services needed to support and sustain what can be described as our new model of agricultural growth. The watchword will then be quality. It will strengthen our national quality infrastructure in Saint Lucia. Food and agricultural commodities will be tested, so too will packages and packaging materials be tested, so as to ensure that we can meet the standards for export to markets in our region and around the world,” he explained.