Agriculture gets secretariat

A newly established Agriculture secretariat will help Caymanian farmers meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Ministry of Agriculture spokeswoman Angelique Crowther said the secretariat was formed as a result of a recent meeting the Ministry held with farmers.

Ms. Crowther said the Agriculture secretariat will provide a formal structure dedicated to handle concerns of Cayman farmers.

The secretariat will also liaise with farmers to clarify the services the Department of Agriculture provides such as land clearing, fence maintenance, animal welfare, licensing and pest controls.

‘But our main goal is to help the agricultural community flourish by increasing their bargaining power,’ Ms. Crowther said. ‘We know we can accomplish this by encouraging and supporting a more active, self-directed Agricultural Society.’

Ms. Crowther said that the Ministry will be looking to work with other departments as well.

Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Crichlow supports the objectives the secretariat has set out.

‘Our department is and always has been committed to communicating with the agricultural community,” he said.

‘Any time there is an issue we are open to upgrading and improving what we can offer,’ he said.

Cayman Islands Agricultural Society president Errol Watler is also pleased with the developments.

Mr Watler was impressed with the well-attended and cordial meeting, which is the first such event he can recall.

He is looking forward to the next one, which will be held next week.

‘This first meeting, and the decision to establish the secretariat, is not only allowing us to air our concerns to the Government, but it’s also an opportunity for them to hear our suggestions,” he said.

He is hopeful that the secretariat marks a turnaround in the relations between farmers and the DoA which he says have been declining over the past 20 years.

He said that the secretariat will be useful in ensuring that farmers will be confident that the lines of communication with the DoA are open.

He hopes the renewed relations will permit farmers to increase production, grow a larger variety of products, and improve quality.

He is happy the Government has recognized that Cayman Islands farmers suffer from a lack of marketing power.

While farmers understand that the Cayman Islands operate under a free market system, Mr. Watler said they had been concerned the Department of Agriculture and the Government were not providing sufficient financial and trade support to keep them competitive.

Mr. Watler said cost of living issues, now being further aggravated by global economic trends, are a good reason for the government to invest more in the agricultural sector.

‘We feel having the secretariat and further meetings with the Ministry will allow us to move forward in this regard,’ he said.

He is happy farmers will be better informed about what the DoA is doing to assist them.

Mr. Watler said that the Agricultural society is particularly looking for assistance with geographically-appropriate farming techniques.

‘Countries such as Israel have very similar agricultural challenges to ours, with the largest issues being access to water and soil quality,’ he said.

‘We would like to learn more about applying crop management methods to Cayman which increase yields and expand production in the same way Israel has successfully done.’

‘We have great potential, and we are interested in doing everything possible to achieve self-sufficiency in our food production,’ he said.

‘As an island state affected by both weather and cost pressures on food imports, it is in our best interest to not have to rely on outside sources,’ he said.

Another issue Mr. Watler hopes the secretariat will be able to tackle is land use.

Mr. Watler is hopeful that taking a cue from other jurisdictions, the Government will be able to work with farmers to protect prime agricultural land from being gobbled up by commercial development.

The Agricultural Society is also working with the Department of Tourism to run a monthly farmer’s market, which Mr. Watler thinks is a great way to showcase local products.

‘People are asking increasingly for locally grown food and that is a great indicator that the demand is out there,’ he said.

Mr. Watler said that the Cayman agricultural sector is at an advantage in light of rising demand for chemical-free and organic farm products.

While other economies in the region have turned to farming practices banned in the EU and the United States, Cayman farmers continue to utilize more traditional methods that have growing market demand both locally and abroad.

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