By Makeida Antonio
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has responded to unfavourable comments levelled against him and his decision to become a large player in the country’s agriculture sector.
This after Leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Joanne Massiah openly chastised Browne’s move on Observer’s Big Issues Programme.
She argued that the Prime Minister’s involvement appears to be self-serving as it would propel him to become the biggest food producer in the twin-island state.
“I want to tell you that food is the future, and our Prime Minister Gaston Browne knows this and this is why he has strategically positioned himself with his farm, because come hell or high water, come hardships or not, people have to eat. With the escalating cost of living and the imports of food which can be grown here, the Prime Minister is positioning and has positioned himself to be the next major local producer of food in Antigua and Barbuda,” according to the DNA leader.
Massiah also criticised the Browne for allegedly not engaging local small farmers in talks that would provide aid so that their output and market share would increase and become more sustainable, thus strengthening the country’s food security.
“The Prime Minister should have first sought to restructure the agcriculture sector. He should have first sought to bring the farmers together to ask of them ‘what are your challenges?’. He should have met with the technicians to know what are the crops that are easily grown here sustainable so he should have made an investment in storage facilities so that we don’t have that glut and wastage in our market and simultaneously he should have begun to have discussions about primary manufacturing, about agro-processing. He should have brought those stakeholders together and to say ‘what is it that you need?’,” she suggested.
However, in response, Browne said on local talk radio over the weekend that he believes his involvement with farming has had a positive effect on the agricultural sector. He also revealed that sourcing investment into his farm of almost EC $1 million has lessened his financial interest in his farming venture.
“Interestingly, agriculture grew from 2 percent to 3 percent, so there was about a 50 percent growth in agriculture, and I want to say this – I am taking some personal credit for that. What is happening now you find that more people are investing in the agricultural sector. I have been able to put a number of entities together even in my farm, as an example; I have attracted two investors and I am now a minority shareholder in the farm,” he stated.
The Prime Minister told listeners that expansion of the country’s agriculture products will reduce the import of chicken and any talks about deliberately pushing small farmers out of the market are to mislead residents.
“I can guarantee you by the end of 2022, you will see a reduction in the chicken imports coming into the country. These investments are not crowding out the small farmers — as those charlatans love to argue; you know differently. What they are doing is displacing imports for the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” he said.
In April of 2021, Prime Minister Browne announced that his business, Farmer DG Browne Company Limited had been registered with him as the sole shareholder. He further stated that whereas electors have the choice to vote for him, they have no sovereignty over how he spends or invests his legitimately earned income and borrowings.