Premier Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE revealed today that Government plans to undertake the development of an agriculture policy.
Honourable O’Neal made the disclosure to the Department of Information and Public Relations this afternoon following a meeting with nine of the Territory’s farmers to hear their concerns and suggestions about the agriculture industry.
“It is Government’s vision that the agriculture industry will become the third pillar of the local economy. This was mentioned at the meeting and the farmers too would like to see that happen and they promised to work together on trying to improve and increase our agricultural production,” the Premier stated.
He added that “no time frame was given but we promised to work on the policy as soon as possible.” The Premier also indicated that a five-year plan for the industry will be developed by the end of this year, charting the way forward for the industry.
A large part of today’s discussion focussed on the Government’s greenhouse project, through which it plans to establish six greenhouses in the Territory, three at Paraquita Bay on Tortola and the other three at South Sound on Virgin Gorda.
The greenhouses are currently awaiting shipment out of Miami. Once they have been set up in the Territory, local farmers will be trained to operate the technology.
Acknowledging that farmers were not initially pleased with the greenhouse initiative, the Premier said “there is a bit of scepticism but I think that will slowly disappear as the project comes into its own. My impression is that the farmers have a better understanding now and they are willing to go along with the Government.”
He added that the greenhouse initiative presents a feasible means through which Government can pursue agriculture as a viable third economic pillar. “We spoke about the need to produce more and the greenhouses represent one way this could be done,” Honourable O’Neal said.
“It was a very lively and interesting discussion and the farmers agreed that it was time to keep up with the technology and they can no longer depend on the one crop at a time but rather you have to do a multiplicity of crops together so that they could meet the demands of the markets,” he added.
Today’s meeting was the latest in a series of discussions between the Premier and the Territory’s farmers, giving them an opportunity to talk about industry related matters of concern to them as well as provide suggestions on how best to address these.
Other concerns expressed at the meeting were adequate water supply, larger plots of land for farmers to enable them to produce more and the high cost of electricity.
One positive development, the Premier noted, was the farmers’ pleasure with the fact that they no longer face competition from the Agriculture Department for the marketing of their produce to local supermarkets.
The Premier concluded that “It was quite a good meeting and it shows the need for a committee like that to be meeting regularly with the Agriculture Department to bring forward the needs and grievances of the farmers and to hear from the department what they have in mind so they can discuss and come to an agreement.”
It is Government’s vision that the agricultural and food production sector will be vibrant and developed to be a third pillar of the local economy, providing job, business opportunities and food security on a sustainable basis.