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People must eat more locally produced foods…says Minister Jeffers

By: Staff Reporter,

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - AS the Federation continues to grapple with the rising cost of living, talks surrounding food security and food sustainability in the country have started again. Efforts have been made over the last several years to beef-up St. kitts and Nevis’ food supply, with the Agriculture Departments on both islands providing much needed financial and material support to farmers.

But St. Kitts and Nevis, like many other territories across the region, has a high dependency on imported foods. In 2020, the Caribbean import bill was at US$5 billion and concerns were expressed locally and regionally that the figure could be transferred to the local farmers. That was amplified during the last two years when COVID-19 impacted the Federation and the wider region.

In the case of St. Kitts and Nevis, there was a high dependency on imported foods as the shelves in supermarkets were running bare at times and bottlenecks at the ports due to mitigation measures implemented due to the pandemic. Now Minister of Agriculture, Alexis Jeffers is making a concerted effort for people to eat more locally grown foods for the benefit of the economy and the health of the population.

During an interview with SKNVibes News at the Agriculture Open Day, he explained that the issue of food sustainability has to do with it being affordable to the consumers. This comes as more people gravitate to the imported, packaged goods due to the cheaper price and the attractive marketing of the goods. “Sustainability really deals with affordability, availability and accessibility to food. And as such, we have done a number of things; one, we have certainly played a part in ensuring that the necessary resources are available to our farmers. We have given out fencing wire, we have given out seeds and seedlings, and we have sought to improve their access to water as well,” the Minister told SKNVibes News. One issue compounding the problem is that of Climate Change, which at times does not allow for consistent rainfall during the expected rainy period, and drought-like conditions have affected several crops such as tomatoes and watermelons.

To combat the problem, the Ministry, through the Department of Agriculture, will shortly be distributing 100 tanks to farmers across the Federation to capture water. “As you would recognise, agriculture here in St. Kitts and Nevis is predominantly rain-fed, and the months when you have difficulty accessing water then that is a challenge and they can’t plant enough,” added Jeffers.

By doing that, it is believed that the country will be able to attain its target by having crop production during the dry period. It is also expected to benefit the livestock sector which is also affected by limited rainfall. Data from 2020, the onset of the pandemic, highlighted that there was a decline in the level of crops produced, a drop of 28.15 percent. The Agriculture Department reported 1,501.81 metric tons against 1,070.03 metric tons of harvest in 2019. During that year the three Cs - Carrots (-100%), Cucumbers (-136%) and cantaloupe (-623%) all saw major drops.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Ron Collins told SKNVibes late last year that the Government imported seeds and seedlings to provide the much needed support to farmers so they could attain the targets and ensure food remains on the island - moving from the import dependency. But even as assistance is being provided, the threat posed by the continued disruption caused by the supply chain is causing a major impact on the cost of food in St. Kitts and Nevis, and it is an area on which the Government is keeping a watchful eye. “Right now, we are experiencing tremendous difficulties in terms of the supply chain and the impact that has had in terms of food not being available. Many countries are now seeing about feeding themselves, so we now have to have that same type of thinking where we can feed ourselves in the event that this is a prolonged process whereby food is difficult to access and transportation, as it is being expensive we are not getting what we should get. So all of these are wrapped in the whole thought of sustainability, resilience and food security,” Minister Jeffers explained. He believes that the country must move away from food sustainability being a topic and be put into action. “.... we want it to be seen, felt and experienced to the point where everyone buys into our thinking. So agriculture on a whole, I believe we have had some good reviews over the last two years, and this is not to suggest that nothing much was happening prior to two years ago, but with the onset of COVID-19, it brought a new perspective to agriculture,” the Minster remarked.

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