Acting Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation & Telecommunication (TEATT), the honorable Omar Ottley, kicked off his first in a planned series of discussions with local stakeholders who either produce locally or import agricultural products.
He held his first meeting on Wednesday October 19, as part of his commitment to improving the local produce market. Through the discussions, Minister Ottley aims to find common ground where the Government can assist with enhancing local production of foods and vegetables and aid in the successful importation of lower-costing agricultural products.
"Ultimately, we have to ensure our population eats healthy, and since I am also Minister of Health, this is an even more critical issue. A healthy population makes for a better group of ambassadors for a Tourist destination such as ours. We intend to give full attention to the Agricultural responsibility of the Ministry of TEATT as we do in the other areas of the Ministry," said Ottley.
The Minister said part of the Ministry's responsibility is "to continue balancing the need for local production by assisting the local farmers while simultaneously ensuring importation of
Agricultural produce meets all health requirements while also meeting the economic threshold of affordability for our people."
Ottley's first meeting was with Eco St. Maarten Agricultural Research and Development Foundation President Denicio Wyatt. He is a well-known farmer and an advocate for using naturally grown foods. During the meeting, the two discussed Wyatt's longstanding request for Government's assistance in producing Medicinal and Recreational Cannabis for local consumption and export to other markets. They also discussed food production and the need for adequate land for farming.
"Land on Dutch St. Maarten is limited, and unfortunately, agricultural land covers only around 5 per cent of our available space. Farming in such small spaces will limit the ability of local farmers to satisfy the entire local market. This means we need to import additional agricultural products, but we must do so in a manner that does not hurt the pockets of our people or discourage local farmers," said Ottley.
Where it pertains to more land for farming, Ottley said he is aware of requests made for lands to previous Ministers of TEATT and the challenge to secure those lands. "Despite Government's limitation where available land is concerned, we cannot ignore the agricultural needs of our Country; therefore, I intend to look further into the matter," said Ottley.
The Minister's goal is to reduce the cost of food in St. Maarten as an immediate effort to offer relief to the population. The series of planned discussions with local stakeholders follows his recent efforts to establish an affordable trade route between the Dominican Republic and St. Maarten for Agricultural produce.
Minister Ottley has already met with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Affairs and International Cooperation in the DR, Mr Hugo Rivera Fernandez and Agribusiness board representatives. During that meeting, Minister Ottley discussed the possibility of the DR supplying high-quality fresh produce to St. Maarten at affordable rates.