Former Agriculture Minister Moses ‘Musa’ Jn Baptiste has condemned his successor Ezechiel Joseph for saying in a recent interview that local farmers ‘can’t handle money.’
The minister was explaining to a friendly interviewer why his ministry decided against making available $1,500 to farmers in cash and instead to give them agricultural products in kind, was because ‘as you know, they have a problem handling money.’
Musa said the minister’s statement in the interview, translated and interpreted in both English and Kweyol, suggests local farmers cannot be trusted with their own money or with funds allocated for them and had to be protected against themselves by being given fertilizers and inputs instead.
Jn Baptiste, who represents Vieux Fort North farmers and is also SLP Chairman, says the statement is ‘an insult’ to local farmers and he noted that no other Cabinet colleague has asked the minister to withdraw that statement.
He also said a SLP administration after the next general election will better organize agriculture than anything the current government has done after failing to deliver on its bright promises of reviving the banana market.
He said local farmers who were encouraged to produce more bananas have failed and the island is now struggling to export 5,000 tons of bananas per week when it exported over 15,000 tons per week up to 2016.
The ex-minister also noted that fishers have been run aground by the current government’s policies forcing fishers to hire vehicles to try selling fish to households on the road, as the fishing complexes in Vieux Fort, Dennery and Castries had been reduced to inactivity and fishers were left owed debts by the government that remain unpaid.
Jn Baptiste said fishers around the island were awaiting a change of government because they continue to pay heavy taxes on each gallon of gas, from which they benefited by way of various rebates and concessions under the SLP.
The Castries fishing complex has been privatized and fishermen in the capital are as distressed as their colleagues in the south and east of the island.
The ex-minister also lamented that producers of healthy foods got no encouragement during the COVID crisis to produce local foods to ensure people ate better.
An SLP Government would have provided $12.8M towards agriculture and $2.2M in fuel subsidies for fishers as direct support during this COVID-19 period by using the approximately $75M IMF income support and economic stabilisation loan.
He said a Labour administration after the next election will certainly do all to engage local farmers to feed the nation and reduce its food import bill.