In this file photo from 2018, farmer Bertrand “Washasha X “ Lettsome pulls back the leaves of one of his many banana trees as he leads a tour of his farm in Spring Ghut. (File photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

Amid concern about the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Cabinet on Friday, March 20, approved a $2 million economic stimulus package for fishing and farming in the Virgin Islands, according to Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.

“As we all know, we are currently facing a global pandemic of epic proportions, and the world is faced with serious implications as a result,” Dr. Wheatley said in a March 20 statement.

The minister explained that the allocated funds, under the project name “Rapid Response Fishing and Farming Production Programme,” would help provide needed supplies for fishers and farmers.

He didn’t provide details about where the money would go or how the programme would be administered, but he said the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is seeking information about what types of supplies would be needed to reinvigorate the industries.

“We recognise that the world economy is being devastated as countries face shutdowns to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said. “We recognise that ports in the region and around the globe are closing.”

As of Monday, the territory’s borders were closed to all inbound passengers, though “freight, cargo or courier craft or vessels” were exempted, according to a government statement issued Sunday evening.

“We also recognise that globally supermarkets are struggling to satisfy demand as panicking individuals stockpile goods in anticipation of shortages in essential items,” Dr. Wheatley continued. “Given these circumstances, food security continues to be a major priority for your government.”

He said the government aims to make the territory more self-sufficient in the face of a “serious threat.”

Farmers and full-time commercial fishers from any island in the territory can contact the department at 468-6123 to register for the programme and to provide information about what type of support they need, according to the minister.