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Concerns over misuse of agricultural lands

Former Ministry of Finance official Lennox Andrews – has eyes focused on one of the constituencies in St Andrew

Former Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Economist Lennox Andrews has expressed the view that the Physical Planning Unit (PPU) within the Ministry of Finance should have “more authority and autonomy to direct, control and regulate” land use and development in the country.

The former fiscal advisor in the Ministry of Finance believes that this should be done following the “National Physical Development Plan so that our land space will be utilised in a more orderly manner.”

Andrews, who is currently a ‘floor member’ on the Executive of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and aspiring to become the Caretaker candidate for St. Andrew South-west, was speaking as a guest on Sunday’s NDCs Heartbeat radio programme, where host Terrence Forrester, raised concerns over the conversion of agricultural lands over the years to “residential development.”

Forrester, who is a former affiliate of the ruling New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, called for “policy direction,” which he said will be “critical in moving forward,” and expressed the view, that “if we continue along that line we will continue to erode our ability to produce agricultural products for our consumption.”

The call was supported by Andrews, who agreed there is a need for such a policy “to ensure that there is a harmonious, well-planned physical development activity taking place in the country that wouldn’t affect us.”

“So, you must have that (policy) in place, and what it means is that when individuals are submitting development plans for housing, manufacturing or for tourism, you must have a look at that national development plan to see whether or not what they are presenting fits…and the Physical Planning Unit must take charge of that,” said the aspiring NDC caretaker.

To further emphasise his argument, Forrester pointed out that “millions and millions of dollars go into farm road development,” which he admitted “is necessary,” however, took issue that “a couple of years thereafter, it gets converted into residential development.”

“If it is agricultural land (then) it is must be for agricultural purpose,” declared the talk show host who pointed to statistics, which show that “over EC$250m” has been “spent building roads over the last 10, 15 years,” but “there is no real correlation as to agricultural input for that (EC$250m) investment.”

Forrester cited the need for the establishment of a “special fund to help farmers develop their land…to buy seeds, plants, and (for) transportation to go back and forth.”

In delivering the Throne Speech last Friday, Governor-General Dame Cecile La Grenade said the Agriculture Feeder Roads project, which is geared to provide easier access to farmlands, is one of several major initiatives, which the Mitchell-led administration plans to accelerate in the upcoming fiscal year.

The female Head of State told Parliament that “the agriculture sector is on track to record robust growth this year” despite the negative fallout due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is “identified as a fundamental pillar for safeguarding livelihoods and for sustainable socio-economic development over the medium-to-long term in the government’s Medium Term Action Plan 2022 – 2024.”

Dame Cecile said that attention will be on “expanding production and markets through more organised production systems, strengthening resilience to climate change and weather variability, and boosting competitiveness consistent with the strategic focus areas and objectives of the Grenada National Agricultural Plan 2015 – 2030.”

Andrews, who described himself as a “development economist,” told the NDC radio programme that “in an economy where the means of production, the land (and) capital are in the majority-owned by the private sector, it is the private sector that must take the lead in the economic development of the country because they have the means, the land, resources (and) capital.”

He argued that the “government’s role should therefore be to facilitate the process of agriculture production (by) building the roads…making it easier for the farmer to have entry to his garden,” and also suggested the provision of “incentives for the inputs” by reducing the cost of the inputs, whether it’s a fork, hoe, cutlass, fertilisers.”

Andrews, who currently provides consultancy services for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) expressed the view that “development is about people, and the people must be seen from two angles, as the object of development, which means that all development must be for the people but the people must also be seen as the subject of development, which means that the people must participate actively in the development process.”

“…If the people participate actively in the development process then chances are you wouldn’t have all these mis-happenings (like the misuse of land) around the country,” he added.

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