As the second sitting of the second House of Assembly convened, Deputy Premier, Dr. The Hon. Kedrick Pickering, brought to the fore an issue that has seen much talk over the past year, that of making the British Virgin Islands more food secure in terms of agricultural and greenhouses development.
Addressing Speaker of the House, Hon. Ingrid Moses-Scatliffe, Dr. Pickering noted that agriculture is one of two traditional industries of the BVI, which seems to have lost its importance to the economy with the advent of the tourism and financial services but that much talk has surfaced about its resurgence.
He added that greenhouse technology may yet prove worthwhile and useful; while making it clear that he is in no way condemning traditional farming practises.
“As a matter of fact, I would like to publicly commend those farmers who are still using the traditional means of farming and to let them know that they have nothing to fear. Our traditional farmers will continue to play a critical role in food production in this Territory,” the Deputy Premier assured.
He revealed that at the beginning of the New Year, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour will be moving forward with the development of the agriculture industry through the development of the green houses.
“This development also creates a total of 20-24 jobs that will be needed to run the greenhouses on Paraquita Bay. This is another benefit that encourages me to move forward with this development from concept to reality.”
He stated that greenhouse technology will afford the BVI the opportunity to increase food production without requiring additional land space.
“As I have always said, Madam Speaker, if they can grow food in the desert in Israel, why can’t we use the same technology and grow food here? Statistics reveal that over 90% of the food consumed in the British Virgin Islands is imported. The development of the Greenhouses in the territory is very important if we are to move towards some measure of food security for this Territory.”
Acknowledging the many issues have been raised with regards to the consumption of greenhouse produced foods, Hon. Dr. Pickering stated that the fact still remains that the BVI imports foods from a number of different countries that utilize this technology.
He pointed out that the territory has no control over the quality of the produce it imports; however, if the territory implements its own greenhouses, local technical people will have direct control over what is produced.
“This direct oversight assures a better quality as well as a reduction in the import bill through a reduction in the quantity of food imported,” Hon. Dr. Pickering insisted.
“Many remember the days, from the 1950s to the 1970s, when the Territory supplied the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands with food, especially ground provision. Those were the days when the population was approximately ten thousand, but with a population of about thirty thousand the demand for food has increased exponentially and the BVI need to begin to seriously address this issue,” he added.
In addition to the increase in population, there are issues like adverse weather conditions which have brought on protracted periods of droughts and extremely heavy rain falls.
These conditions make it difficult to cultivate and the greenhouses will provide a situation where the conditions can and will be controlled, thus ensuring year round production.
Reinforcing his point, Hon. Dr. Pickering added that the United Nations has estimated that the world food production will have to increase by seventy percent by 2050 in order to meet the need of an exploding population that is expected to reach about 9 billion. This extra production, according to the UN, will have to largely come from existing land.