Land clearing, water shortage and farmers identification cards were some of the issues that the Acting Premier Hon. Juliana Oâ€™Connor-Connolly and officials discussed during a meeting on Wednesday, 29 May with a group of farmers at Heritage House in Cayman Brac.
The Acting Premier along with Chief Officer for District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture (DAWL&A) Alan Jones, Acting Deputy Chief Officer Jonathan Jackson, District Commissioner Ernie Scott, Deputy District Commissioner Mark Tibbetts, Director of Agriculture (DoA) Adrian Estwick, Deputy Director DoA Brian Crichlow.
Minister O’Connor-Connolly informed the farmers that Cabinet had passed the â€śHeavy Equipment Land Clearing and Land Preparation Policy (2012) Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, which allowed for the clearing of land. â€śSomething that has been available for farmers on Grand Cayman for years,â€ť the Hon. Minister noted.
The Policy allows for all persons/organisations registered as farmers to have their land cleared with heavy equipment. Applications need to be submitted to the Department of Agriculture on Cayman Brac. Another stipulation included in the Policy is that once the land is cleared, it must be put in to agriculture production within three months, otherwise the person will have to reimburse the government for the full cost, if non-compliant. This process will be monitored by the DoA.
Another item on the agenda was water supply, which is a major issue for farmers in the Cayman Islands. The Minister promised to come up with a comprehensive plan for consideration, but in the meantime, she promised to drill eight wells in the 2012/13 fiscal year. It is hoped to use current technology of solar power pump and a water tank system that would assist farmers. In addition, it is hoped that neighboring farmers will share wells.
The Acting Premier noted that the process some farmers currently use to farm their lands during the rainy season and to break during the dry season is not effectively and some farmers say it is getting harder, because it breaks the cycle of production.
â€śWe must help our farmers to maximise all their resources so that they will improve their crop yield. This is the only way to protect our food supply, feed the population and become less dependent on imported foods,â€ť Hon. Juliana Oâ€™Connor-Connolly said.
â€śAs the demand for food increases in these islands, which have limited resources, we want to focus onÂ the use of land and water to ensure we use these precious resources more efficiently.
Mr. Jones, who chaired the meeting, said he was pleased to assist farmers to produce locally grown fruits, vegetables and livestock. “By doing this, we supply the population with fresher food and keep the money on these islands. By doing this, we increase jobs and more importantly, we create a healthy population.
Farmers Pedro Lazzari and Lynn Walton were particularly pleased with the introduction of a Farmerâ€™s Identification Card and the clearing of land.Â There will be two types of cards — Non Commercial Farmers and Commercial Farmers.
Mrs. Walton said: â€śJust relating the information to us was very positive. The fact that farmer ID cards are planned was a particularly positive one.”
She added: “The interest shown by the Ministry staff to our issues with irrigation and land clearing was quite encouraging and this meeting demonstrated good communication between the Ministry, DoA and farmers.â€ť
Mr. Lazzari, who is deputy principal of Cayman Brac High School and also a livestock and fruit farmer, explained that farming was a hobby and a joy, something that was passed down to him by him father.
“I donâ€™t make any money from it, but I love it, Mr. Lazzari said. “I think it a good thing that the Ministry promotes farming and I am very pleased with the assistance that the DoA provides.Â Agriculture personnel are very helpful and the service and relationship we enjoy are good. That has been my experience.”
Director of Agriculture Mr. Estwick was delighted with the strong turnout of farmers and backyard producers. â€śThe Department of Agriculture is always happy for the opportunity to meet with farmers — to answer questions, listen to their ideas and in general to interact and socialise. The enthusiasm shown by the farmers is a clear indication that the goal of the Ministry and Department to increase food production and security in the Sister Islands is bearing fruit and we are happy to work with the farmers and homeowners in this regard.”