The government will be looking to drip irrigation to limit water wastage and improve food security on the island.
While delivering the Throne Speech today Monday, Governor General Sir Rodney William said the government recognizes that achieving food security is crucial for sustainable development.
He said while traditional open-field farming is important, this system alone cannot guarantee high agricultural output in the face of challenges such as drought and pests, which can spoil soil and affect the quality of crop and livestock production.
“To address these challenges, my government is exploring innovative solutions such as drip irrigation to limit wastage of water and prevent weeds from overtaking produce. My government is also exploring new methods such as hydroponics to increase domestic food production and possibly export in the future. In the meantime, my government is committed to preserving remaining agricultural land, which has been rightfully converted for other uses since 1967,” Sir Rodney said.
The government, through its Minister appointed with the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and Barbuda affairs has recommitted his focus on nurturing a foreign policy which identifies national development priorities, promotes trade and investment, participates in international organizations, strengthens diplomatic relations, supports regional integration and protects our nutritional security, according to Sir Rodney.
Meanwhile, he said the conflict between Russia and Ukraine resulted in a global rise in food and energy prices, affecting Antigua and Barbuda as well. Unfortunately, some of our citizens were of the view that my government was responsible for maintaining stable prices during the crisis.
However, according to him, it is essential to understand that the price increases were beyond the control of any government, as both large and small economies across the world experienced the same issue. Unfortunately, those who are among the world’s poorest bore the brunt of the crisis. In response to this reality, my government has adopted a two-pronged approach to address this challenge.
“In one approach, my government has sought to respond to the rising prices of food and energy caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine. Recognizing the impact of this crisis on the people, our Ministry of Finance, under the leadership of an experienced and very determined Prime Minister, took decisive action with the full support of the Cabinet to adjust various tax mechanisms,” he told Parliament.
And because of this, Rodney said millions of dollars in taxes on fuel were waived to alleviate the burden caused by volatile oil prices while adding numerous zero-rated products to the existing list. The $10-barrel programme, which allowed families to import essential items such as toiletries and food items free of taxes, was extended beyond Christmas 2020.
“Despite the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, my government ensured that public servants received their salaries and wages on time and that pensioners received their full payments. This dedication to the people has paid off, as evidenced by the growth in the economy in 2021 and continuing that trend into 2022,” he said.
Furthermore, Sir Rodney said the Gaston Browne-led Government anticipates exceeding the average 7% growth in 2023. One of the major contributors to this success has been the PLH project in Barbuda, which not only created jobs but also stimulated local purchases, throughout the pandemic.
“Despite attempts to shut down this economic engine, my government firmly believes that Barbuda will continue to be a source of jobs and opportunities for growth in 2023 and beyond. The second prong of our national fiscal security mechanism was focused on preserving our nation’s main economic engine – the tourism sector,” he added.
Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez was also in for high praises with Sir Rodney My government acknowledges the hard work of the Minister of Tourism and his team of public and private sector partners for growing, stabilizing and rebuilding the sector—an accomplishment which received several awards including the Tourism Minister of the Year Award presented by the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
The recovery of the tourism sector after its forced lockdown during the dark period of the COVID 19 pandemic is a remarkable achievement, engineered by my government’s efforts and the superb leadership of a team of experts who capitalized on pent-up demand for travel in the markets that drive our tourism industry, he said.
“Despite the temporary closure of two of our largest properties—Jolly Beach and Halcyon Cove—undergoing upgrades and renewal, visitor arrival figures nearly match those of 2019, our best year on record. Furthermore, we expect even more visitors in the upcoming season,” according to him.
Sir Rodney said the government remains steadfast in its efforts to preserve LIAT and ensure that the aviation sector, which Antigua and Barbuda has developed over the course of several decades, continues to be an export service.
“My Government views the survival of this critical sector as a means to drive the growth of our OECS economy. Our commitment to regional travel will not falter, and we will continue our work towards sustaining this vital service. The Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Transportation and Investment is re-committed to leading his team in embracing a larger portfolio while delivering just as good or better service,” he added.