Mr. Lindsey Grant, leader of the People’s Action Movement, has chosen a particular theme on which to build his political ambitions. He chose the policy of land distribution to former sugar workers.
I like this theme and, regardless of my serious reservations about Mr. Grant’s ability to lead this nation, I have had to admit that by his advocacy of the development of land by local people, including the poorer people who, until recently worked in the sugar lands, he caught my attention.
I have always been excited at the prospect and even the promise of the development of land by Kittitians; since 1973 while both Mr. Grant and Dr Douglas were still at school I predicted the collapse of the St. Kitts sugar industry and proposed the distribution of the land and the establishment of peasant farming as the way to prosperity.
I was ignored of course, and called crazy, but my message in 1973 and onwards was not entirely original. It was the same message which the great Sandy Pointer, Thomas Manchester, who founded the Labour Party, promoted in the political debate of the 1930s.
Manchester was a landowner who planted sugar on his two small estates, Lynches and Lavington, which were a part of the network which spun from the Basseterre Sugar Factory.
As one of the few really educated Kittitians of his time, Mr. Manchester realized very quickly that the centralized sugar factory in this small island would eventually fail to meet the expectations of its investors and the general St. Kitts population.
The sugar factory was built in 1912 on the assumption that sugar labour would be cheap and that sugar workers would continue to be satisfied with living in the slums with their large barefooted families.
According to the calculations of the sugar aristocracy, sugar workers’ children would not aspire to do anything else but join their parents in the cane field and succeed them when the parents got too old for the hard work.
No doctors, lawyers engineers or accountants would emerge from sugar labourers. No office jobs for them. These jobs were reserved for the white and brown people’s children who would come out of the St. Kitts Nevis Grammar School.
Manchester, the planter, knew that the leaders of the industry was making a serious mistake in their expectations. He knew that the masses of the people would sooner or later aspire to higher education and would demand a better life than one in the canefields. Those who did not become high paid employees and professionals would want to work for themselves.
That was the trend in Manchester’s day. Black people were steadily drifting away from the canefields and were either learning skills, opening bar shops or cultivating the soil.
They made a more comfortable living in these non-sugar pursuits and turned their backs on the canefield for the rest of their lives.
Among the sugar aristocracy, however, only Manchester seemed to understand this social dynamic. The rest of his colleagues gambled on setting up an industry on the fragile foundation of a bottomless pool cheap labour.
The sugar industry was thus doomed to fail from the time it began and Manchester tried to put some realism into the system by advocating the establishment of small farming on fertile land to offer the sugar workers an alternative to earning low ways in the sugar industry.
The inevitable happened in 1935 when the sugar workers staged a peaceful demonstration which called forth the brutal response of the authorities.
At the hearings staged by the Moyne Commission, Mr. Manchester advocated and the Commission recommended the distribution of sugar lands to a local peasantry.
It is clear therefore that the land question was in its earlier years, championed by the founders of the Labour Party. It is clear that even while sugar was still predominant in St. Kitts the early Labour leaders of the 1930s were willing to take some land out of sugar for the benefit of poor people whom they wanted to empower.
So how has it happened now, that the apparent quest for land reform in St. Kitts is being led by Grant, the leader of the party which is in opposition to the Labour Party? Where is the message of land of hope in the land with which the Labour Party began. Where is the Labour Party’s land platform?
Why is Mr. Grant running with this message? Where is Dr. Douglas, the leader of the party which first enunciated the message of hope in the doctrine that control of land greatest instrument of empowerment of the masses?
But while I question the Labour Party government about the mysterious disappearance of local land ownership from the landscape, I also question the sincerity of Lindsey Grant in his constant harping on the land question.
Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Grant is serious about land redistribution empowerment and my doubts about his and sincerity are fuelled by Mr. Grant himself.
In his address to his party in the recently held convention here’s what Mr. Grant said about our efforts to develop an agricultural base for our economy:
“We here in the Caribbean in general and St. Kitts-Nevis in particular are already dealing with the teething pains of inaugurating a modern economy based on services RATHER than agricultural production. With this change we are seeing first hand how the obsolescence of the skills of an agricultural economy can and will marginalize individuals in general and our country as a whole.”
What I understand Mr. Grant to be saying is:
ß St. Kitts-Nevis economy should concentrate on services rather than an agricultural.
ß The agricultural skills available to Kittitians and Nevisians are obsolete.
ß The agricultural sector promotes backwardness both for the individual and the nation.
If Mr. Grant’s recipe for economic development is establishing a market for services, he might not be far off the beaten track. It is the same thing that we hear from Dr. Douglas of the Labour Party. In most of the developed economics their path to prosperity lay in changing the emphasis of the market from agriculture to manufacture and then to the service industries.
There is no doubt that a country can thrive from banking, insurance, telecommunications, offshore concessions, tourism, money laundering and international gambling, to name a few of the services which make small countries rich.
But as important as the service sector is to every economy, should a country which has fertile soil and abundant water stop producing food, build golf courses on its arable land, nourish grass with its precious water?
If this is what Mr. Grant thinks then why is he agitating for land reform? What does he propose that the ex-sugar workers will do with the land if his reforms were to happen?
Then what about that part where he talks about obsolescence? Does Mr. Grant really know what he is talking about?
St. Kitts and Nevis has the best agricultural unit in the Caribbean. In St. Kitts we are blessed with Dr. Jerome Thomas and his elite cadre of trained agricultural scientists. Nevis has Dr. Daley and his equally elite cadre of highly trained scientists and technicians. In a little corner of St. Kitts there is the local chapter of the International Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture headed by Mr. Augustine Merchant, formerly Director of Agriculture in Nevis.
Not forgetting the Taiwanese experts in agricultural science and agro-processing.
These scientists are modern. Their skills are up to date, their business is cost efficient and market friendly food production. Available to them are all the modern techniques available to the science which would produce everything from the soil and everything else above ground including honey.
These men and women work in harness with an enthusiastic band of fruit and vegetable farmers, livestock farmers, fishermen, beekeepers. These hardworking men and women of the soil take pleasure in their work and pride in their productivity. Are these the people these agricultural entrepreneurs whom Mr. Grant describes as backward. I forgot to add chicken farmers one of whom is Mr. Grant’s father.
Backward, marginalized, obsolete? Is this really how Mr. Grant sums up Agriculture in St. Kitts and Nevis. Unbelievable! I had to read and re-read what he wrote and still cant believe that’s what he said!