By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet Minister yesterday slammed the $60 million assistance being sought by farmers as "astronomical", and said just 3 per cent of this sum would be forthcoming.
Renward Wells, minister of agriculture and marine resources, said the Government was not satisfied that the Farmers United Association (FUA) could justify its request based on Hurricane Matthew-related damages. He added that it was instead seeking to assist the sector with obtaining insurance to guard against future storm damage.
"The sum the farmers are asking for is astronomical; some $60 million to reestablish their farms," Mr Wells said. "They said salt water intrusion was in Nassau, but we have not assessed that the community experienced that type of damage." Rather than $60 million, the Minister said the Government was looking at providing further assistance valued in the $2 million range.
"The other thing they are asking for is the Government to assist with farmers' insurance. My ministry is looking at how we can get the farmers insurance. There are myriad issues we are addressing," Mr Wells pledged.
Mr Wells said he was "surprised" and "disappointed" over a newly-posted video making the rounds on social media, showing several irate farmers outside the Prime Minister's Office for a cancelled Monday meeting with Dr Hubert Minnis. "I was extremely disappointed the way that social media video went out, and the reaction of the individual, because it was completely uncalled for in an environment where a conversation has been had and is going on," said Mr Wells.
The video purports to show the Prime Minister slipping out of his office by a side door to avoid the farmers before being driven away, with some heard threatening to vote him and the FNM out of office at the next general election, mirroring the fate of Perry Christie and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP)
Mr Wells, speaking following a Cabinet tour of The Pointe's Phase II development, argued that the Government has provided farmers with "everything they have asked for".
"I am very surprised that the farmers would react in the way they did when everything they asked for, and anything they need for farming, is available to them in the Department of Agriculture," said Mr Wells.
"Everything they asked for was provided to them. We have about 200 farmers in Nassau, and about 1,500 throughout the country who are registered. Every one of them Some of them have the land they are farming on leased to them, and some have been granted it outright.
"In addition, we provided seeds from the fish and farm store on Potters Cay, fertiliser, feed from the feed mill on Gladstone Road for chicken, pigs, goats and small ruminants. If you have an issue with your animal, the Department of Agriculture has four vets we send to to assist you. We had Moroccan fertiliser donated by the Moroccan government sitting on the dock for two years. I am passing that out, giving out 10 bags-15 bags. If you want a meeting with me I have an open door policy."
Mr Wells added that government purchases $9,000 worth of produce from local farmers. "We guarantee $9,000 minimum for what you produce and, based on the credit you have with the fish and farm store, we deduct that from the $9,000," he said.
"The farmers have asked for additional monies because the previous government gave them vouchers to build some of their fencing and get pumps for aggregation."
In a March 27, 2017, letter to Mr Wells' predecessor, V Alfred Gray, the Farmers United Association requested government financial assistance amounting to $30,000 per acre of farm land. Estimating that there were around 2,000 acres of land on New Providence currently being used for agriculture, the FUA said this equated to a total $60 million subsidy.
The Farmers United Association (FUA) president, Caron Shepherd, previously told this newspaper that New Providence farmers were seeking $60 million to help their operations recover from Hurricane Matthew and contaminated feed from the Gladstone Road feed mill.
She added that the farming community was still trying to remove salt contamination from the soil, caused by Hurricane Matthew's four-foot storm surge into the Cowpen Road area, and also needed to repair its physical infrastructure, including cages, wire fences and farmhouses.