BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 27th March 2020) – “Sorry that we got to meet this way but sometimes it’s good when you get in de pot hot so when things cool down you appreciate the road travelled.”
So said President of the St. Kitts Farmers’ Cooperative Solomon Morton speaking to the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Brenda Boncamper when they met for the first time during a protest on Church Street outside Government Headquarters on the morning of Wednesday 25th March 2020.
‘Real Food Security’, ‘People With Vision in DOA[Department Of Agriculture]’, ‘Better Treatment For Farmers and [Compensation] For My Animals’ were some of the placard messages collectively displayed by the seven (7) farmers who participated; all wearing white shirts marked ‘FARMERS’ LIVES MATTER’.
“…We have said before get a farmer on these (agriculture) boards so that when money is disbursed there could be some transparency (that) we know where the money is going. Nobody is taking us on. Just recently some money was given for Bayticol (and) out of it a brand new pick up was bought. How much was the cost of the pick-up, nobody knows (and) how much was saved, nobody knows and we are the ones who are feeling the burden and we want some respect in demanding some attention that they listen to us…We are saying listen to us; pay us some respect. Come talk to us but all we’re getting is snubs and insults all along and we can’t take it anymore! This is just one measure; other things are going to come,” Solomon had told reporters.
He informed that this week’s protest was planned a month ago.
“We have to till the soil… we have to bend we backs in sun and rain. We aint got no paycheck and it’s unfair for them-all of them who is in office- to be robbing us of we livelihood and this is what it comes down to. The director has no vision for agriculture, the vet is not ready …the minister himself ain’t ready…” he also stated.
“We want better representation than what we having and getting! Now de pressure come down dey want to answer us?! Dey shoulda answer us long time. He make us sign paper for free Bayticol when we had a pandemic breakout wid de animals and now de animals dem dead off, dey come round give Bayticol! Well, I got lice, me got bug or cockroach?! Me no got nuff water pon me farm and many farmer no got no water pon dey farm so what they saying here aint benefit to much of us so why dey going give us water [payment waivers]? Dey insulting the farmers’ intelligence and abusing it highly too…If ya’ll going compensate the farmers, I want my own cheque,” commented Floyd Lee.
Notably, Bayticol is a chemical treatment used to control ticks and lice in animals such as sheep, goats, cattle and horses.
Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris announced at this week’s COVID-19 stimulus plan press conference held on Tuesday 24th March, $10 million to boost production in the agriculture sector and ensure greater food security for the Federation, free Bayticol to be provided to farmers for the next 6 months and waiver of payments for the consumption of water by farmers for six months- April to September 2020.
In an exclusive interview following his chit-chat with Boncamper, this media house asked Solomon to share his thoughts on what she had to say to him to which he replied: “Well, I’m willing to give her a chance. This is only the first step and I will urge the others to give some time to see where this is going.”
As gathered from him, the protest farmers have another upcoming activity but would consider putting “other stuff on hold” for the time being.
Boncamper in talking to Solomon had expressed that “it would have been nice” if he came to her and discussed their issues before carrying out the demonstration to which Solomon responded “I would not have discussed the march with you.”
According to her, however, “A lot of your concerns could have been ironed out and I know your mind would have been eased…We have things that we are working on for the agriculture industry; it’s not everything that we can put out when it’s in a stage of being crafted. We are working to make the sector more robust, attract the interest of young people and give it the attention it deserves.”
Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture Natasha Daniel had also approached the protesting farmers informing that some information concerning their complaints reached her desk that morning.
When asked about her involvement in coming to speak to the farmers, she outlined that she indicated to them that what was said at the Prime Minister’s conference which had to do with COVID-19 to boost the agriculture production if there is an outbreak, as well as the water waiver for farmers, is different to the Bayticol programme approved by cabinet.
She pointed out that compensation details are being worked on to put certain measures to ensure that “farmers are treated fairly and they are satisfied” noting that farmers who have lost animals will be compensated financially.
Daniel also spoke about the future inclusion of a representative from the farmers’ cooperative to ensure that members are satisfied with the process going forward.