Parliament is holding a discussion on agriculture, fishery, animal husbandry and poultry today. The COVID-19 crisis once again brought home how vulnerable the island’s monoculture tourism economy continues to be. The pandemic’s negative impact may ultimately prove worse and last longer than that of major hurricane hits or even the halt in travel after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
Food security is also a potential risk area for an island that depends almost completely on imports, should there be any issues with transport or logistics. That is not the case now, but if at one point there are insufficient foreign exchange earnings to buy the products abroad there could still be problems.
Local farmers, fishermen and livestock owners do what they can, but lack structural support in terms of facilities and other assistance if these sectors are to develop into significant economic contributors. It will also take a while, but there has probably never been a better moment to start.
With what the world is going through now, few will argue the wisdom of producing more of one’s own food. However, merely saying so and doing something about it are two different things.
And – let’s face it – with the expected budgetary restraints going forward, making available the necessary resources seems like a challenge, but it doesn’t always have to be about many millions. More attention for the primary sector in education should not cost a fortune.
Why not devise a “resilience campaign” using financial means of the Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund managed by the World Bank to, also for health reasons, to promote eating locally-grown produce? One aspect could be providing every household with seeds and a bag of soil so they can try cultivating vegetables and fruits in their yards or planters.
Although St. Maarten/St. Martin will probably never become a typical farming community, sometimes a relatively small and partially symbolic gesture can go a long way to help create the right mindset for such ideas to foster. People often just need a leg up.