EDITORIAL Consultation before confrontation

- Advertisement -

Once again, the government has been bitten by its failure to consult with stakeholders prior to making important decisions in an industry. This time, the brouhaha began when it was revealed that the Ministry of Agriculture would be entering into a three-year project with the Chinese-based Yuan Longping High-Tech Agriculture Company (LPHT) to develop the local sector through the use of technology.
On the face of it, this is a laudable venture to help ensure our food security through the greater use technology in farming.  We continue to promote local food production and food security as some of our top priorities, so we cannot criticise the government for seeking to make inroads in those areas.  That said, the government cannot be an island unto itself.  The administration cannot make grand decisions without consultation with those who will be affected.  In this case, the farmers are the primary stakeholders, but when it comes to food security, the entire nation should be party to the discussions as well.
We could have easily seen this project becoming a win-win if the consultative process had been employed from the beginning. Instead, the government held a brief ceremony at the Ministry of Agriculture to make the announcement and then all hell broke loose.  We are pretty sure that our Chinese partners did not appreciate the controversy that immediately became attached to the project.  That aside, it was revealed that thousands of acres of land were to be made available to LPHT which would dispatch eight agricultural experts to work in Antigua for three years. Their job would be to provide technical assistance in the area of vegetable and tree cultivation and processing technology. The company would also establish seven greenhouses – two for experimental demonstrations and five for commercial production in the Greencastle area, as well as spearhead the introduction of other technology.
The reaction was natural and expected, considering the history of farming in our bit of paradise and the fact that the struggling farmers were not consulted.  Who could not see the surprise announcement being controversial? No local farmer owns or manages  thousands of acres of land for crop cultivation, but suddenly, an unknown foreign entity enjoys this entitlement while the locals look on from the cold outside?  It also does not help when the Minister condescendingly refers to the concerned farmers as “the so-called farming community.” A rather unhelpful choice of words!
Of course, as bad a situation as it may be, we have to compliment the Minister of Agriculture for addressing the situation in quick fashion.  Dean Jonas has a reputation for addressing tense issues in a head-on manner, and in this matter he did not disappoint.   The minister met with representatives of the local farming community to address their anxiety over the project and to answer some of their questions.  It was not described as an easy meeting by anyone who attended, but the farmers got their opportunity to vent, and Minister Jonas got his opportunity to explain and attempt to allay their fears.  
Just think how different this meeting would have been if it was the first public consultation – before any decisions were made.  The minister could have presented the government’s plans in a positive light and used the benefits to get buy-in from the stakeholders.  We are not naive enough to think that it would have been smooth sailing or that there would have been unanimous support from the farmers, but the government would not be in the defensive position in which it now finds itself. Who knows?  If the Chinese company had also been part of the consultations, it may have seen greater opportunities by having increased participation and partnership with the local farmers.
Instead, the government has announced a project and the local farmers are in the dark.  They have not even seen the official document related to the project, only a leaked draft.  But, as we have said before, this is what happens when there is no transparency.  The information void will be filled by any information available and situations will, in most cases, go from bad to worse.   Minister Jonas has committed to providing a copy of the official document and has apologised for his condescending tone.  He has also said that he wants consultation with the farmers. All good moves! 
There is, of course, one final and recurring folly that must be addressed.  The administration must acknowledge that consultation works better if it begins with an invitation by those proposing rather than a demand by those affected.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

- Advertisement -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here