Former Agriculture Minister, Michael Baptiste, has expressed disappointment in the stimulus package announced for the agriculture sector and made suggestions on ways to grow the sector.
Baptiste, who appeared on a social media programme with Kellon Bubb recently, responded “not at all” to if he is satisfied with the package announced by the Minister of Agriculture last month.
He pointed out that while the Prime Minister announced that over $20 million was set aside in the stimulus package for the hotel industry, Agriculture Minister, Hon Yolande Bain-Horsford announced $5 million for farmers, while $2 million to the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA).
This, Baptiste sees as an unbalance and prejudice of the government in treating the tourism sector vs the agriculture sector, adding that investment in Agriculture is a good investment.
In the package for farmers, 500 families and geriatric homes are to receive seeds and tools under the back-yard garden component, but Baptiste is not impressed saying the beneficiaries will be selected by the politicians.
Noting that COVID-19 has negatively impacted the tourism industry as flights are not coming and hotels are empty, Baptiste stressed the need to resurrect the rural economy.
He stated that the PM sees two Grenadas, one comprising St George’s only where the major lump of the country’s resources is being spent and the rural areas where he offers pittance.
Over the years, Baptiste opined, the Agriculture and the rural economy have collapsed with the fall of the banana industry and the poultry sector barely surviving.
He shared that prior to hurricane Ivan the GCNA had 20 receiving stations, and after Ivan to date there are only 7, coupled with a reduction of nutmeg production.
He faulted the government for not engaging in an aggressive re-planting programme since.
With a call for a package for poultry farmers, Baptiste noted that the poultry and fisheries sectors can aid in reducing the country’s high food import bill of EC$350 million as of 2019.
He called for an injection of capital in the poultry sector and a programme to assist homeowners with material to build fowl runs.
The former Agriculture Minister is suggesting the building of small hatcheries islandwide with homeowners growing poultry in their backyard with each having a target of 1200 birds per year.
Further, he said homeowners can grow birds within a cooperative, bring them to the processing facility, get a cheque and then get new chicks to continue the cycle.
In connection with one company supplying all the poultry feed on the island, Baptiste suggested setting up processing facilities and a feed mill to offer locally grown products.
“The poultry production must be inversely proportional to the food import bill. When poultry production rise, food import bill drops; and that should be our goal,” he stated adding that there are lots that can be grown locally to reduce the import bill.
Still with Agriculture but in another light, Baptiste referenced the country’s local bottling companies, noting that it appears they were never engaged to incorporate local fruits in their drinks so there can be local ginger ale, sorrel or fruit juices.
Baptiste, who mostly lives in the United States, proposed establishing eco-tourism in Grenada including herbal gardens as he called for decriminalization of marijuana to be farmed in a structured way.
Baptiste was elected in 1995 under the Grenada United Labour Party but “crossed the floor” to join the ruling New National Party.