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Loop- Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris has encouraged the people of the Federation to consider large or small scale farming in the face of the global supply chain bottleneck.

Addressing the nation, the Prime Minister said the government appreciates the importance of agriculture in the delivery of a better quality of life to the people of the federation, as food is a basic human need. He said globally, the challenge to have food in adequate quantities and simultaneously at affordable prices is great.

The bottleneck is due to an increase in demand for products as online shopping has significantly increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In many instances, however, manufacturers are unable to meet the rise in demand due to staff shortages and reduced operating hours restrictions and curfews continue to be put in place to limit the spread of the virus. Labour shortages are also impacting ports where the goods land, which in turn slows the offloading and inspection process thereby creating a bottleneck. Experts are predicting that this issue will get worse before it gets better.

Prime Minister Harris pointed to the supply chains around the world that continue to be disrupted by COVID-19 as backlogs increase. He also warned that there will be an adverse movement in the price of food items as an increase in transportation costs and fuel prices are realized. Costs of goods are likely to increase as a consequence of the supply chain disruptions and shortages due to climate change.

This is where, he said, locally grown foods play a critical role. “In the medium and long term, our challenge is to produce more of what we need to feed ourselves. We need to produce, store and distribute food at affordable prices. From a health perspective, a conscious effort has to be made by all of us to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet. Fresh food is to be preferred over-processed foods.  Foods that are low in salt and sugar are better for our health and wellness. A determined effort is required by our farmers and backyard gardeners to produce more of what we need.”

At a recent National Emergency Operations Center briefing, the Chairman of the COVID-19 Taskforce Abdias Samuel brought attention to the supply chain bottleneck which has not yet affected the federation. He however encouraged citizens and residents to manage resources and supplies that are currently available until a global solution is found. He said there was no need for panic, but necessary preventative measures must be put in place to be resilient against these types of global challenges.

In 2020 the St Kitts Nevis government responded to the food security challenge with additional budgetary support of $10 million. Support was offered to farmers in land preparation, fencing wire, reduced cost of bayticol, etc. Fisherfolk have been supported with fishing wire, fishing ropes and other necessities of their trade. In 2021, the budget support to the sector was increased while maintaining the support of duty-free concessions on farm vehicles, and removal of VAT from agricultural inputs including seeds and other implements.

Harris said the growth in the agriculture sector is highlighted by more lands being made available for farmers. There are over 1200 registered farmers and over 1200 registered fisherfolk, highlighting the growth in our agriculture sector. The Basseterre Public Market has been renovated and new farmers vending areas have been created as part of the government’s mission to build ‘stronger, healthier and more economically advanced communities.’

As more persons take advantage of the opportunities provided to them to earn through farming, new farms have been coming on stream in areas across the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the government of St. Kitts and Nevis to offer stimulus packages to offer assistance to those persons most affected by the devastating global phenomenon.

Prime Minister Harris in his address also gave an update on elements of the government’s second stimulus package.

The Prime Minister informed that the third round of payments under the income support programme totalling $2.6 million was made on Monday.  He said to date, 2,973 persons (98.8% of the approved applications) have benefitted from the programme which has recorded a total payout of $7.7 million since its launch.

In giving an update on the fuel Subsidy Programme, he pointed out that 118 individuals have submitted applications to the Ministry as of 15 October 2021.  The total payout to date is $129,800.

For the Disability Support Programme, The Treasury has made the third round of payments to 155 applicants.  The total payout to date is $248,000 ($233,000 to individual applicants plus $15,000 to Ade’s Place).

Food Truck Vendors Support Programme has assisted the four persons who have applied for assistance. The applications were received and approved by the Ministry and these vendors have all received payment.

The government’s second stimulus package also includes the waiver of commercial rent for small businesses which lease space from select government ministries, the waiver of stall fees for vendors using the public market and the reduction in travel tax in an effort to boost visitor arrival to the Federation.

The concessions associated with the government’s second stimulus package end in December 2021.