Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart has taken issue with the PACT government’s decision to pull the plug on the Farmers Assistance and Relief Measures (FARM) programme days after welcoming the benefits it granted to Caymanians.
McTaggart, in a media statement, pointed out this was the second initiative started under the Progressives-led coalition that has been axed, after the cancellation of the free George Town shuttle service last Friday.
“This FARM program that was proving beneficial to over 1,200 local farmers is one. And last week the PACT government also cancelled the George Town shuttle bus service that was being used by over 1,000 people each week and I’m sure would have grown further had the program been allowed to continue as originally intended,” McTaggart said.
The FARM programme, which was started last December, was aimed at providing economic support to the local farming community negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis, stimulate interest in agriculture, and strengthen the resilience of the farming community, a Ministry of Agriculture statement said last month.
That statement named 28 May as the deadline for applications but did not mention any changes being made to the programme.
“Then a week later many farmers, perhaps even [former Agriculture] Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, were surprised and disappointed at the [new Agriculture] Minister’s about-face when he announced in a further press release that the FARM programme would not be continuing, and no new credits given, after next month for those who registered with the Department of Agriculture since the programme started,” he said, adding that in other words, “those encouraged to take up farming because of the programme will no longer be supported. That is indeed disappointing especially as no reason was given for the sudden change.”
McTaggart said it is not clear what has made new Minister of Agriculture Jay Ebanks change his mind from supporting the programme to effectively stopping it over the course of a week.
“The Opposition will carefully watch to see what other programmes benefiting our people that the PACT will shut down. I do hope the Caymanian people are also paying attention,” he said in his statement.
Ebanks, in announcing the end of FARM, said he is actively reviewing the agriculture sector and the resources that are needed for the modernisation of the sector to enhance food and nutrition security.
“The Ministry will be adjusting the level of assistance to deliver more benefits to the various sub-sectors to stimulate agricultural growth, strengthen and improve productivity, storage, and other capacities,” Ebanks said in the statement.