An increasing demand for local meat among Cayman consumers is leading to dwindling numbers of farmers’ livestock, according to agriculture officials and local farmers.
At a Cayman Islands Agricultural Society meeting last month, Minister for Agriculture Kurt Tibbetts acknowledged that demand for local products is growing and farmers need to rise to the challenge of filling that demand.
“Demand for local meat is high,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “If Cayman’s farmers don’t replenish livestock, they could lose the local market.”
He suggested that the Agricultural Society work with farmers to gather data relating to animal stock size in Cayman to ensure there is enough supply to meet local demand.
At the meeting, George Smith, president of the Agricultural Society, told Minister Tibbetts that there had been pleas for years for farmers to keep statistics on produce and livestock, but only a few farmers had provided the information.
Importing breeding stock
“We are taking a proactive approach in getting the stock replenished,” said Mr. Smith. “We need data from farmers and then a deadline will be set to move forward with the importation.”
One farmer, Hamlin Stephenson, who raises and sells goats, said, “The demand is very high for all local livestock, I can’t keep goats because the demand is so high.
“Right now, I have young kids and she goats from which I select the best ones to be tagged not for sale, so when breeding time comes along, I will see what I get from them. … There is no way that I would slaughter those because I would not have any goats to breed again.”
According to the latest available government economic statistics, the number of cattle on the island has steadily been declining in recent years. In 2009, there was 2,601 head of cattle, compared to 1,711 in 2013. The number of pigs on islands fell from 1,063 in 2009 to 812 in 2013. Goat numbers fell from 2,154 in 2009 to 1,736 in 2013.
Local farmers indicated that the numbers had fallen further last year, but requests by the Cayman Compass to the Department of Agriculture to confirm the total number of livestock on island in 2014 were not answered.
In drives to replenish livestock in previous years, a delegation of local farmers, accompanied by Department of Agriculture staff, have made buying trips overseas. The Agricultural Society is proposing that farmers go on these trips in groups, rather than individually, to visit farms approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mr. Smith added that farmers were also looking at purchasing livestock from other Caribbean islands.
In the past, local farmers have received assistance from the Cayman Islands government to import livestock, for example, with quarantine and shipping issues.
Mr. Tibbetts indicated that the government would again be willing to assist farmers when data was collected by the Agriculture Society and the necessary arrangements put in place.
Under a previous agreement between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Society, farmers selected and purchased their own animals and had them delivered to isolation facilities in the U.S. Government would then assist with the cost of quarantine, testing, and shipping the animals to the Cayman Islands.
The last time that the government, through the Department of Agriculture, assisted with the importation of livestock was in 2009.