With the high cost of food production increasingly affecting world markets, Caymanian lawmakers are starting to turn their attention to what’s left of Grand Cayman’s available farm land.
‘While it may not be the most popular area to deal with, it’s one we need to focus on to ensure that (local food production) is protected,’ said West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin during a finance committee debate last week.
The issue is one that Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts has sought to address for some time; expanding the local farmer’s market to a weekly event in Lower Valley, and attempting to create satellite butcher shops where meat can be prepared and sold safely.
The government has recently purchased about 30 acres around the agriculture department building and lower valley pavilion to ensure the government will have use of the property.
Mr. Tibbetts said the government had also identified ‘several large tracts of potential farm land,’ mainly on the north side of the island, where owners already participate in farming activities.
The land is zoned agriculture-residential, which Mr. Tibbetts said allows only single family homes to be built, one per acre.
Mr. Tibbetts said government is willing to negotiate with property owners on a plan that would allow the lands to be used for farming over a specific period of time. He envisioned a process where government would assist farmers by opening up roads into inaccessible land in return for guarantees that land will be used for farming for a certain number of years.
‘It would either have to be an arrangement between land owners and the Agriculture Department or the Government as a whole,’ Mr. Tibbetts said during the same meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s finance committee.
He also noted that government’s new development plan includes a proposal that would allow certain areas to be used only for agricultural purposes.
Mr. Anglin advised using property government already owns or intends to purchase if it wishes to enact such measures.
‘It’s much easier for government to put that regulation on itself,’ Mr. Anglin said.
Mr. Tibbetts agreed that officials could not be draconian in their approach.
‘This would have to be an agreement with the landowners,’ he said.
The Cayman Islands has spent close to $3 million to support agriculture in the upcoming budget year, which begins 1 July. More than $1.5 million has been set aside for services to farmers, and another $1 million is planned for the new farmer’s market and for farm roads on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.
The government has also allocated $200,000 for the development of satellite butcher shops in Grand Cayman although Mr. Tibbetts told the finance committee that effort was slow in getting started.
‘There still is not consensus…as to a way forward,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘You have to convince the local people this is the best way to have it. People who buy beef at Christmas time enjoy doing it that way, even though it’s not the most safe way to have it.’
Mr. Tibbetts said the government still intends to have satellite butcher shops, but he could not state when they might be completed.