Group told of their roles in cutting food imports.
LAST Thursday, 76 participants graduated from the Farmers Registration Programme at the Fisheries Complex in Vieux Fort.
The theme for the ceremony was “Overcoming Obstacles; Achieving Success”. The first topic addressed in the Farmers’ Certification programme dealt with Agricultural Marketing Management. In this phase of the programme the participants learnt about St. Lucia’s high import bill and the pivotal role that they play in reducing it
During the discussion it was clear that farmers were not aware of St. Lucia’s high import bill. Participants were told that approximately six containers of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and provisions which enter our ports are consumed by households, hotels, restaurants and other food outlets on a fortnightly basis. It was impressed upon farmers the need to make production information available to the Ministry so that the appropriate decisions can be made on these containers coming in on a fortnightly basis.
The second topic which the participants were exposed to addressed Farm Management, Production Scheduling and Record Keeping. Here, the participants learnt that farmers were business people and that the factors of production: land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship were essential in having a successful enterprise. With the right mix and physical effort, it was essential that the farmer schedules production, harvests on time and avoids glut on the market. Farmers were asked to plan the time which they plant their produce to avoid having too much of the same goods on the market at the same time.
Another topic addressed in the programme was record keeping. The need to keep proper records was very essential in terms of going to the bank to access funds. With proper records as well the purchaser would be able to determine which chemicals and fertilizers were applied and when. This would particularly be applicable to vegetable farmers who normally plant two sets of vegetables, one for household consumption and another for sale. Farmers were admonished to desist from this practice as they needed to monitor pesticide levels in all foods they produce.
The participants also learnt about pesticide use and safety, pests and disease management, and organic pesticides.
During the programme farmers were also given a presentation on pests and disease management using organic pesticides and fertilisers. Great emphasis was placed on integrated pest management to control infestations in crops. Many plants and their derivatives were mentioned in controlling those pests in crops. There were concerns on the withdrawal period of those organic pesticides too.
The programme also addressed good agricultural practices, workers health and safety and praedial larceny. The discussion on the latter topic resulted in a heated debate, heightened emotions and unresolved issues. Tempers flared since most farmers in the programme at one point or another had been victims of praedial larceny. .
On the final day of the programme it was impressed upon farmers to organize themselves into agricultural co-operatives. They were told that co-operatives bring farmers together, empower them and allow them to negotiate for the best prices. Farmers also benefit from economies of scale since when the farmers buy in bulk, the product becomes cheaper for them.