Charles responds to Opposition’s criticism of budget cut to farmers’ programme
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Pearnel Charles Jr, has indicated that despite the lambasting from the Opposition on his ministry’s decision to cut $150 million from the Agriculture Modernisation Programme budget, it was made in the interest of the farmers and the sector.
“When I came into this office I looked at all the policies to see what made sense… This programme had a beautiful title, modernising agriculture, but when you dig deep into the programme you see that the majority of the money, which is a loan, was going to intangibles,” Charles said.
He said among the expenses were consultancy fees and other aspects that were no longer in line with the infrastructural needs of farmers that would contribute to the success of the programme.
“We took the decision to speak with the consultants and we told them that if we are going to take a US$25 million loan, we need to adjust this programme to make sure it is providing the support that we need for small farmers and the buildout of the sector,” he added.
Speaking on Thursday at the Rotary Club of Mandeville’s Annual Vocational Award of Excellence, where three persons in the field of agriculture were awarded, Charles said in spite of the response from consultants to make only minor adjustments to the programme, the ultimate decision was made to put it on hold and distribute funding where the current needs are strongest.
“That $150 million was just the project start-up money to help create the unit that would use $25 million over a period of time. But I am not putting my country in debt to put on a programme just because the title sounds good. The programme must make sense and where it doesn’t make sense, we must not be afraid to put it back on the shelf,” Charles said.
The project, which aims to increase agricultural productivity and income for beneficiary smallholder farmers, has the supply and installation of hardware, software, laboratory and other equipment to support the information and surveillance systems in the sector, as some of its physical targets for 2022 to 2023.
“The ministry is readily putting in place the replacement quota which is going to focus on the strategic priorities that we have now as a country, because what we wanted in 2017 when the discussion started is very different from what we need in 2023.”
Additional programme targets include the development of the framework for agricultural public-private partnerships, the design of a plant health information system, the establishment of the project management unit and the completion of a baseline study of agro-parks productivity and performance.
The programme, which started in April 2022, is being funded by the Government and the Inter-American Development Bank and is expected to last until March 2027.