BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, NOVEMBER 11TH 2010 (CUOPM) – The Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) has committed approximately EC$22 million assist former workers in the sugar industry grow the agricultural sector, value added industries and revitalize rural development.

The Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) was established for the purpose of supporting the former sugar workers, conducting research into the development of industries to replace the sugar industry, funding the development of these alternative industries and providing further support to secure the sustainability of such industries, as outlined in the original draft of its articles. The initial and main source of funding ongoing was indentified from the government’s citizenship programme.

Four projects – the Agricultural Training for Employment Project, the Agricultural Diversification Fund, a 113-acres Cappisterre Farm in the foothills of Belmont Estate and the Agriculture Resource Management Project – combined support training and promote sustainable employment in non-sugar agriculture have received approved funding by the SIDF mainly in primary agricultural enterprises with new enterprises emerging with linkages to the tourism sector, and value added products with a focus on fruit juices, dehydrated fruits and vegetables for the local market.

It is anticipated that by the end of 2010, an additional 35 percent of local demand for fruit juice and beverages, will be met through local production.

The investment by the SIDF has seen agricultural production moved from 4.78 percent of the GDP with sugar production included in 2005 to 4.56 percent in 2009, excluding sugar.

This shows an almost 100 percent increase in agricultural growth over a five-year period through funding support from the SIDF.

SIDF has allocated EC$4 million in the Agricultural Training for Empowerment Project since January 2008 in which some 189 persons have received training in crop production, livestock production, fish product development, the growing of ornamental flowers, landscaping and golf course maintenance. A life skills component and entrepreneurial skills module were also included in the training.

The three-year training programme in non-sugar agricultural techniques in farming was designed for 100 participants. The project allowed for trainees to graduate from the training at various stages and move into employment. This allowed others to join the programme. An additional 25 persons were added to the programme in March 2009 for training in ornamental flower production, landscaping and golf course maintenance. The funding has been used solely to pay stipends to trainees.

Graduates of the programme are being prepared as farm managers and supervisors, farm-hands and as self-employed farmers. The project has also led to the establishment of cluster farms and farmers’ cooperatives and collectives that yield employment and incomes for graduates. At the close of the programme participants will graduate to cluster farms at Ogees, Sir Gilles, Estridge and Belmont while others will remain as employees on farms to which they were attached for training.

The Agricultural Diversification Fund has been allocated EC$2 million of which EC$1.75 million has been received by the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis. Of that amount EC$1.58 million has been approved and EC$1.49 million has been disbursed.

The Fund is to be invested in encouraging entrepreneurship and fostering growth in the medium-small and micro-agro business sectors of the economy of St. Kitts and Nevis with a view of stimulating expansion of the economy by generating increased national output; to put otherwise unemployed and underemployed resources in the agricultural sector to work; and to help to improve the food production capacity of the Federation.

Applicants should generally be approved as a qualifying farmer by the Ministry of Agriculture and where practicable the loan must be secured. Loans not exceeding $25,000.00 are interest free.

The 113-acre Cappisterre Farm in Belmont has been established and employs 28 persons and is spearheaded by the Ministry of Agriculture with supervision from the Department of Agriculture.

The objective of the farm is to provide employment opportunities for displaced sugar-workers and complement the domestic demand and affordable access of fresh fruits and vegetables in St. Kitts andNevis.

The farm has been fenced and farmers have planted 2.75 acres of peanuts and 5 acres of sweet potato along with 200 coconut trees along the border and internal roads. The farm currently employs 14 persons. During harvesting season employment figures, in the absence of mechanized harvesting can increase by 50 persons.

In November, the establishment of the orchid production on the farm will commence as well as the planting of 100 West Indian lime trees and 100 breadfruit trees. Additionally 5 acres of peanuts, 2 acres of pumpkin, 5 acres of sweet potato, 2 acres of yam, dasheen and Tania would be planted. This is to ensure foods and vegetables that are considered staples in the local diet are made available in the low production season of most farms.

It is anticipated that the food prices of locally grown produce will stabilize and therefore meet the dietary needs in fruits and vegetables.

The fourth project that Sugar Industry Diversification Fund has financed is the Agriculture Resource Management Project (ARMP) which has as its goal the creation of conditions for environmental stability, improving soil, water and land management, fostering agricultural development and sustainability while protecting vulnerable downstream housing settlements and other infrastructure including the railway track and bridges. The project estimated to cost EC$10 million between August 2008 and July 2011, EC$2.7 million has been spend on the project.

It includes construction of storm drains/drainage structures with activities centered on improving farmers’ access roads around the island; construction of four (4) Demonstration Greenhouses and Ferro-cement irrigation water storage, plus farmer training; introduction and implementation of Land Management Practices on 40 new or existing farms and ghaut stabilisation and channelisation focusing on major waterways island wide, that if not properly managed and maintained, can threaten housing and farming areas as have occurred during flash floods and hurricanes in the recent past and Development of Irrigation Infrastructure focusing on at six (6) locations; Fahies, Brotherson, Sir Gillies/Farms, St. Peters and Estridge with the aim to increase farm production and improve national food security and incomes in the rural sector.

It was pointed out that in September this year, damages to farm roads, etc., following the passage of Hurricane Earl, was estimated at EC$165,000.00. These repairs would have to add to the original cost of the project if the real impact of this project is to be realized. Hurricane damage to farms must be taken into consideration given the high vulnerability of St. Kitts and Nevis to hurricanes.

Inspite of these constraints the SIDF has emerged as a mitigating device to revitalise the agricultural sector and reignite the rural development activity. Although it is necessary to implement risk reduction strategies to which small farms, home gardens and other agricultural cottage industries are vulnerable, funding from the SIDF has helped to effect sustained growth in the industry.

This article was posted in its entirety as published by CUOPM.