From left: Denicio Wyatte, Minister Omar Ottley, and Ms. Boasman.
PHILIPSBURG--A long-standing request from Eco St. Maarten Agricultural Research and Development Foundation President Denicio Wyatte for government’s help in producing medicinal and recreational cannabis for local consumption and export to other markets was amongst issues discussed when Wyatte met with Acting Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Omar Ottley on Wednesday, October 19.
Also discussed were food production and the need for adequate land for farming.
The meeting was the first in Ottley’s planned series of discussions with local stakeholders who either produce locally or import agricultural products, and is part of Ottley’s commitment to improving the local produce market.
Wyatte is a well-known farmer and an advocate of using naturally-grown foods. “Land on Dutch St. Maarten is limited and, unfortunately, agricultural land covers only around five per cent of our available space. Farming in such small spaces will limit the ability of local farmers to satisfy the entire local market. This means we need to import additional agricultural products, but we must do so in a manner that does not hurt the pockets of our people or discourage local farmers,” said Ottley.
As it pertains to more land for farming, Ottley said he is aware of requests for land made to previous TEATT Ministers and the challenge to secure those lands. “Despite government’s limitation where available land is concerned, we cannot ignore the agricultural needs of our country; therefore, I intend to look further into the matter,” said Ottley.
Through the discussions, Ottley said, he aims to find common ground where government can assist with enhancing local production of foods and vegetables and aid in the successful importation of lower-costing agricultural products.
“Ultimately, we have to ensure our population eats healthy, and since I am also Minister of Health, this is an even more critical issue. A healthy population makes for a better group of ambassadors for a tourist destination such as ours. We intend to give full attention to the agricultural responsibility of the Ministry of TEATT as we do in the other areas of the ministry,” said Ottley.
He said part of the ministry’s responsibility is “to continue balancing the need for local production by assisting the local farmers while simultaneously ensuring importation of agricultural produce meets all health requirements while also meeting the economic threshold of affordability for our people.”
His goal is to reduce the cost of food in St. Maarten as an immediate effort to offer relief to the population. The series of planned discussions with local stakeholders follows his recent efforts to establish an affordable trade route between the Dominican Republic and St. Maarten for agricultural produce.
Ottley has already met with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Affairs and International Cooperation in the Dominican Republic Hugo Rivera Fernandez and Agribusiness board representatives. During that meeting, Ottley discussed the possibility of the Dominican Republic supplying high-quality fresh produce to St. Maarten at affordable rates.