Growing agriculture

Agriculture Minister Kazim Hosein. Jeff K Mayers
Agriculture Minister Kazim Hosein. Jeff K Mayers

AGRICULTURE Minister Kazim Hosein seemed to be leaning heavily on the notion that everyone has a collective responsibility to increase food production, when he spoke at Wednesday's launch of the Agricultural Development Bank's Seedling Boost initiative.

But it is Mr Hosein's core responsibility to improve agricultural production by helping fishermen and farmers.

As he rightly noted, with continuing constraints on the global supply chain, it's important that appropriate investment and training opportunities become part of government's planning for the sector.

The Agriculture Ministry has been allocated almost $2.5 billion in the budgets for 2021 and 2022, with an increase of $51 million in this year's allocation.

Can Mr Hosein point to specific programmes and projects that have benefitted from the massive agriculture stimulus packages allocated for the sector in 2021 and 2022?

These allocations, totalling more than $800 million, were given in addition to the standard budget for the sector, in the expectation that they would help make a substantive change in the business of agriculture.

There are basics that must be in place to drive change and the Agriculture Minister must be aware of them.

Land tenancy arrangements for established farmers should be fast-tracked to ensure the continuity of their businesses.

Basic infrastructure, including navigable roads and reliable sources of water for irrigation, continue to fall short of expectations.

An efficient and capable praedial larceny division, capable of investigation and rapid response, is long overdue.

When budgets are dramatically increased in any sector of government, some established businesses will benefit from the availability of funds, while others will be created to profit from the funding trough – with no serious plan for long-term, sustainable development.

Has the Agriculture Ministry improved its screening procedures to ensure that established farmers and fishermen, with a track record of development in the sector, are supported by such funding?

Is there a master plan to introduce wider use of agricultural technology and encourage young entrepreneurs to bring new approaches and talent to the sector?

Mr Hosein called on the ADB to be more involved and responsive to the needs of farmers and fishermen, but has the ministry itself been listening to the people who invest sweat to lubricate the sector?

Offering free seedlings for plants is a useful symbolic gesture, but any force that will drive change in the agricultural sector must be kick-started by the Agriculture Ministry.

Encouraging citizens to plant home gardens builds community support and awareness of the role of agriculture, if done effectively.

But any serious improvement in food sustainability will only come from large-scale cultivation and animal husbandry.

Two billion dollars should buy some tangible improvement, but farmers and fishermen continue to lament the lack of action to back up all the promises of support for agriculture.


"Growing agriculture"

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