Agriculture Minister ‘flip-flops’ on hundreds of Caymanian farmers.
I was pleased to learn in a statement put out on May 19th by the Minister for Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure, the Hon Jay Ebanks, that the PACT Government would be continuing the Farmers Assistance and Relief Measures (FARM) program that was started in December last year, under the Progressives lead coalition, by then Agriculture Minister, the Hon Julianna O’Connor-Connolly.
In the May 19th press release Minister Ebanks noted that over 1,200 members of the agriculture sector are benefitting from the program. He further noted that it was helping to stabilize agriculture businesses which have lost revenues and incurred expenses caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. He went on to thank the Hon Juliana O’Connor-Connolly for all her efforts in establishing the FARM programme and the PACT Government for continuing with the program. It is worth noting that the Minister is also a farmer.
Then a week later many farmers, perhaps even Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, were surprised and disappointed at the Minister’s about-face when he announced in a further press release that the FARM programme would not be continuing, and no new credits given, after next month for those who registered with the Department of Agriculture since the programme started. In other words, those encouraged to take up farming because of the programme will no longer be supported. That is indeed disappointing especially as no reason was given for the sudden change.
The FARM program had the support of the entire Progressives coalition government when it was launched. It provided assistance to, and strengthened the resiliency of, local commercial farmers negatively impacted by COVID 19. But importantly the FARM programme also encouraged more people to take up farming, including backyard farming. We understood that Caymanians growing more of what we eat has been supported by every government for decades and is part of our tradition and culture. This PACT government perhaps takes a different view.
It is not clear what has made the Minister change his mind from supporting the programme to effectively stopping it over the course of a week. However, I do note that this is the second program the PACT government has recently cancelled that was assisting Caymanians. This FARM program that was proving beneficial to over 1,200 local farmers is one. And last week the PACT government also cancelled the George Town shuttle bus service that was being used by over 1000 people each week and I’m sure would have grown further had the program been allowed to continue as originally intended.
The Opposition will carefully watch to see what other programs benefiting our people that the PACT will shut down. I do hope the Caymanian people are also paying attention.