DFP political leader Kent Vital
DFP political leader Kent Vital

With our rich fertile soil, abundance of rain, and our country's reputation as "the Nature Island of the Caribbean" there is an opportunity to develop thriving business in agriculture. Indeed, the Dominica Freedom Party is of the view that the agricultural sector, intertwined with tourism can be the basis for Dominica to develop a prosperous economy.

In New Zealand, which is a developed country, agriculture and agro-processing forms the bedrock of their economy, so let us not let anyone tell us that it is not possible for that to occur here in Dominica. From time to time in our country various crops have thrived and most recently, during the heyday of the banana industry (in the 1980's and 1990's) our proud and hardworking farmers built decent homes, sent their children to school and university, and were able to take care of their families and dependent relatives. The country did well as a result and there were declining levels of poverty. During the same period, the foundation for diversifying agriculture was laid down by the Dominica Freedom Party which governed and managed the affairs of our beautiful country between 1980 and 1995. Hence there were many efforts to support the establishment of tree crops including grapefruit, orange, avocado and coconut, while a thriving huckster trade supported the production of many short-term crops including sweet potato, pumpkin, yam, dasheen, ginger and pepper.

While the demise of the banana industry was sparked by international challenges under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with respect to the preferential access of bananas from African Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP) to the European Union, this should never have dealt a death blow to agriculture in Dominica, not even to the banana industry itself! Had we built on the institutional framework that was put in place to support the banana industry and agriculture in general; had we strengthen and adjusted that framework accordingly to match the changing realities; had the government remained committed to the agricultural sector like the Dominica Freedom Party was; had the leadership of the Dominica Labour Party understood what it took to sustain the prosperity of the agricultural sector; then agriculture today would have still been very healthy and thriving!

A Freedom Party Government will certainly reverse the failure of the current Labour Party Government! But agriculture is a very important sector to support our ability to earn, and hence, in working towards the sector making a greater contribution to improving the quality of life for all our people and the future generations, here is what we promise our farmers and our nation.

Firstly, we will be totally committed towards improving the competitiveness and prosperity of the sector given its importance to our people.

Secondly, we will rebuild the support institutions at appropriate points along the way and in so doing also provide the farmers with a voice in the industry like they used to have.

Thirdly, we will pay much attention to market research and marketing. Clearly, there are opportunities that we can exploit with respect to organic agriculture, the health-food market, cultural markets; horticulture, linking tourism to agriculture, and related agro-processing; we will need to identify relevant opportunities and establish the market connections.

Fourthly, it will be necessary to provide adequate farmer support services. In doing so, there will be no political favoritism! Our agriculture must be supported by appropriate science, technology and production techniques. Our agriculture extension officers will be on the front line in that regard in terms of advisory services, but we also have to work closely with our agricultural supply businesses to enable them to be valued partners. These must be supported by a strong research function.

Fifthly, we will take the relevant steps to attract young people into the industry. In that regard, we will model the kinds of business success that agriculture can produce and train our young people to apply technology and business-like approaches to all facets of the industry. Yes indeed, hardworking and smart young farmers can buy themselves their own homes, vehicles and motor-bikes if they so choose. I for one, I am putting my money where my mouth is! So farmers and young people, I am joining you on that journey!

Sixthly, we will definitely pay attention to shipping. Effort will be made to allow the existing shipping services to be fully exploited and expanded. But where established shipping links are not adequate, much attention will also be given to put in place relevant shipping links to regional markets including air links to facilitate the export of flowers.

But indeed, agriculture can thrive again in Dominica. Let us go places with Freedom!

Kent Vital

Political Leader Dominica Freedom Party.