(by Kwesi Isles)
Small ruminant farmers are being urged to organise themselves so that they could effectively lobby policy makers to have their issues addressed.
The call came from CARICOM Deputy Programme Manager for Agriculture Margaret Kalloo as the Caribbean Week of Agriculture activities continued in Georgetown, Guyana on Sunday.
“Recently the poultry industry was able to bring their case to the Ministers of Agriculture and the Ministers of Trade and get what they want and why is that so? Because they lobbied, they showed their relevance to what they produce for the region and how important they are.”
She added that she hoped that the small ruminant industry across the region would be able to do the same one day.
“It is your lobby that helps us to do the work that we are supposed to do and to make it fruitful at the end of the day. I cannot work for you if you don’t support me and by supporting me it means you need to come together, even at the national level so that at the regional level we have a driver from the private sector,” Kalloo stated.
The official did initiate the first steps for a regional network by suggesting those who attended the workshop form the nucleus of that movement.
The farmers identified several issues with praedial larceny, dog attacks on their herds and financing appearing to be the most prevalent.
Lindsay Gay of Trinidad said he believed farmers needed help with financing since the system was structured incorrectly.
“ADB (Agricultural Development Bank) wants to give farmers a loan and in six months want them to pay back. How could you set up housing for 100 ewes, buy 100 ewes, breed them, let them have young in five, six months, grow them up a year before you sell and want money in six months?”
According to Gay, farmers needed special arrangements on their loans. Melvin Singh of Guyana was of a similar view.
“I took a loan from IPED (Institute of Private Enterprise Development) but my interest rate for my loan was 14 point something percent, I have to pay back that in three years. I’m asking our representative in Guyana if they can intervene on behalf of us farmers … financing is a major problem.”
IICA Representative Gregg Rawlins said they also had to look at making the conditions attached to getting financing in the sector more farmer-friendly though he did acknowledge that the interest rate seemed to be an issue in Guyana based on Singh’s account.
The two-day workshop looked at an overview of small ruminant production in the Caribbean, and identified best practices, challenges and opportunities in the sector. The farmers also made linkages with leading small ruminant farmers from Canada who attended the event.