Roy and Esmie Penn sat behind their stall and fielded questions from customers during the Farmers and Fishers Week exhibition on Saturday at Paraquita Bay. One customer inquired whether their peanuts were “parched.”
“Yes, it is brown; you can buy it for only $2,” Ms. Penn said. Moments later, another visitor asked about herbal tablets. “This herbal remedy is good for a lot of things,” Ms. Penn said.
“It can cleanse you within nine days.” Their table was among more than 20 stalls set up at the weekend event, which also included livestock displays, cultural demonstrations, a pumpkin soup competition, and more.
Ms. Penn said she operates a small farm at Paraquita Bay, and she has been assisting with her husband’s agro-processing business since 2016.But she said the agriculture sector needs more support from the government.
Similar sentiments were echoed by other farmers and fishers at a panel discussion that was ongoing nearby on a stage set up by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Panelist Nea Talbot said that operating her two-acre Full Belly Farm is a labour of love given the many challenges facing farmers in the territory. More support, she said, could include an examination of import policies.
“We have a really viable quantity of crops on island, but we cannot compete with the importation market,” she said. “When we go to the supermarkets with our goods, are we getting a fair price? Because it is very expensive to farm here.”
Farmers, she added, also need better access to the goods and services they need to continue their operations. “We need reliable access to the inputs we require as farmers at a cost-effective level,” she said.
Noting that the sector is often considered risky, she added that farmers also need easier access to “realistic” funding and other entrepreneurial support. “This is to support small farmers with the infrastructure that they need, and, in that space, that is entrepreneurship,” she added. They also need assistance becoming more resilient to climate change, according to Ms. Talbot.
Fishers on the panel spoke similarly. Ken Pemberton, a retired fisheries assistant who worked at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, offered various solutions to challenges facing the sector. Some of them are already ongoing.
For instance, each main island in the territory is forming a representative fisheries body that will take members’ complaints to government authorities, according to Mr. Pemberton. “For us, this will better help strengthening the fishers’ capacity of producing, teaching and protecting the industry,” he said.
As technology is growing within the global fishing industry, local fishers also need more training, Mr. Pemberton added. “They feel left behind, and without the training they can’t keep up,” he said. “You need adequate equipment nowadays to actually go and locate your fishing grounds.”
Mr. Pemberton also called for better regulation of the industry. As an example, he explained that the sector is divided into sport, pleasure and commercial fishing. But while commercial fishers are allowed to fish for selling purposes, they are bound by regulations imposed by the Shipping Registry and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, he said. Those regulations, he added, should be re-examined in order to enhance fishers’ capabilities.
Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, who also participated in the panel discussion, said such concerns are already being addressed. Currently, he said, there is a contract within the Attorney General’s Chambers to draft fishing regulations.
He also called on Mr. Pemberton and the heads of fisher associations to engage with the drafter and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, “so that we can make sure we get the regulations right.”
Dr. Wheatley agreed that financing is key to the development of fishing and farming alike. “We used to have something called a development bank in the BVI,” he said. “The primary role of the development bank is to support fishers and farmers.”
He added that the planned Agriculture and Fisheries Authority — which is to be created pursuant to the recently passed Food Security and Sustainability Act 2022 — will play the role of a development bank.
“And the Agriculture and Fisheries Authority will be approaching private banks,” he said. “It can receive grants from an international organisation. It will be able to form a relationship directly with farmers.”
Such funding, he said, will help the authority provide grants and low-interest loans to farmers and fishers. “It will actually support them to ensure that their business becomes successful and that they can pay back their loans,” he added.
Also at the Saturday event, several farmers sold prepared foods in addition to their produce. The owners of Mill Round Farms, for instance, offered local beverages along with bananas and vegetables.
Nearby, fishers sold red snapper, yellowtail, grunt, conch and other options at their stalls. A star attraction was the greased pig competition, where children competed to be the first to catch a piglet in a ring.
A large gathering converged to cheer. But when the dust settled, only one of the three piglets was captured. The other two were spared as the children grew tired under the hot afternoon sun.
Farmers and Fishers Week activities continued in Paraquita Bay on Sunday with livestock displays, a hat parade, and traditional races. On Monday, the exhibition moved to Jost Van Dyke, followed by Virgin Gorda on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, a chicken coop installation was scheduled at Claudia Creque Educational Centre on Anegada. Events are scheduled to continued on Thursday with an exhibition, garden tours and meal samples at Elmore Stoutt High School from 10 a.m.