President of the St. Kitts Farmers’ Cooperative Solomon Morton (center), Gareth Lewis (left) along with other farmers during the protest outside government Headquarters in March 2020 (Spokesman Snap)

BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 15th May 2020)-A representative group of livestock and crop farmers on St.Kitts who, in a public outcry, protested outside Government Headquarters in March 2020 calling for the betterment of the agriculture sector still have more to say on the topic of the Ministry of Agriculture getting the input of farmers to move sector forward.

At a press conference held on Wednesday 13th May 2020, President of the St. Kitts Farmers’ Cooperative Solomon Morton was joined by two colleagues- Elroy Stapleton and Gareth Lewis; the three of whom were recently selected to part of a committee to deal with the issue of financial compensation regarding the loss of animals (cattle, sheep and goat) in the tick disease involving a shortage of Bayticol situation.

President of the St. Kitts Farmers’ Cooperative Solomon Morton (center) with colleagues Elroy Stapleton (left) and Gareth Lewis (Spokesman Snap)

According to sentiments expressed by Morton, in support of his colleagues, that media event was a “non-political press conference because it’s our livelihood and it is [sector] that is going to save our nation and our generation.”

As part of the government’s COVID-19 stimulus plan, $10 million has been allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture under the banner of boosting production in the agriculture sector and ensuring greater food security for the Federation. Free Bayticol and waiver of payments for the consumption of water by farmers for six months (April to September 2020) is included also.

When asked by the media house about what response they expect from those in authority, Solomon commented: “One of the things we expect is that they would honour what was said by the Minister that farmers should be included to see how the money is spent. In that way, there would be traceability and accountability and except that happens it means we are wasting time.”

He told that a proposal he has shared with officials is that: “Out of that $10 million, some money needs to be set aside in a foundation so that farmers can go and borrow that money at a cheaper interest rate and not be depending on the government for handouts and that is key if we’re gonna move the agriculture sector forward.”

Morton replied further saying: “We are hoping that going forward whoever or whatever, you have to come to the farmers, get our input to move the agriculture sector forward. You don’t stay in an office and dictate because we’re not slave and drop outs. We are intelligent people just like they are and all that we are saying is give us the respect and listen to our cry. Let us make our input and together we can move it forward.”

As understood, in April 2019, a meeting was held in St. Peter’s Community Centre in which livestock farmers held an audience with Agriculture Minister Eugene Hamilton to address issues which saw a follow-up meeting in August that year on some promises made.

“That meeting, they gave the farmers who were present a few days to sign up to say what animal they have lost and the amount. Not all farmers were privy to that meeting so not all farmers attended. We waited and then after a while nothing was happening. Just over a month ago when we couldn’t take it anymore as our animals continued to die, the livestock farmers decided that we have to do something about it and so we took the time to demonstrate and went down to Church Street…Upon doing so they then spoke to then acting Permanent Secretary who took some time out to engage us and show that she is willing to listen to our plight and we should come and talk with her.”

As explained following such, the Minister of Agriculture called two meetings-one to deal with livestock and another to deal with crops.

From the Church Street demonstration and also followed by a livestock meeting at the Department of Agriculture in La Guerite, Morton shared that he made it clear to the audience and the Minister who were present “that one of the way going forward is that whatever funds are going to be distributed, the farmers should have a say in dealing with this.”

Solomon informed that at the meeting at LaGuerite, the three of them were appointed to be part of the committee to “deal with the whole idea of compensation”

To date the representative farmers are awaiting a copy of list of farmers affected in order to vet it.

“We were told that it’s not complete and so we can’t get it. Up until this moment, we have not received that list. You might say well that’s no big issue but if we’re going to be charged with the responsibility of making sure that the money that was given by Cabinet which is equivalent to half a million $EC to be used as compensation then we must be in a position to verify the amount that each farmer would be getting and at the same time to make sure that that money is spent where it is supposed to be spent or go where it is supposed to go.”