Agriculture Minister Dean Jonas has released the contract signed with a Chinese group to undertake farm development work in Antigua and Barbuda.
Farmers and opposition groups have been arguing that too much land is being given away to the Chinese and local farmers will suffer from loss of market.
But the ministry said in a statement that contrary to claims that the Government is giving lands to any Chinese entity the donation will greatly enhance the overall productivity within the local farming sector.
The Government of the People’s Republic of China has identified the Chinese-based Yuan Longping High-Tech Agriculture Company (LPHT) as the entity which will be providing technical and other assistance valued at between eight to ten million Eastern Caribbean to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
Minister Jonas said it, “It was never, and is not the intention of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, under this project, to disenfranchise any farmer nor to assign any crown lands to any country, including China”.
Minister Jonas also used the opportunity to directly address some of the other questions and concerns which had been raised regarding the Agricultural project such as the potential for an unmanageable glut of food production and the employment of Chinese workers to perform tasks on the experimental farms.
The Agriculture Minister revealed that the project will address the sale, conversion and appropriate use of the produce realized from the assigned lands as well as from private farms, in an effort to reduce the food import bill of an estimated half of a billion Eastern Caribbean dollars.
The Agriculture Minister noted that the project will hire legal residents of Antigua and Barbuda to perform the required tasks on the experimental farms under the supervision of the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) with guidance from nine (9) Chinese technical experts.
Local farmers will be provided with training, advice and the opportunity to gain firsthand experience on the experimental farm, so that they could duplicate the practices on their own farms.
Local farmers will also benefit from reduced waste of produce through improved post-harvest production and tissue culture products among others.
In terms of the amount of land being identified for inclusion in this project, the Agriculture Minister said that while it is intended that 4,000 acres of land will be desired outcome, this will take place in a phased manner, with the initial portion of 1000 acres being gradually increased to the desired amount over the three-year life of the project.
Presently in Antigua and Barbuda, approximately 1000 acres of land are under agricultural production with an estimated 100 acres being farmed under public sector initiatives and the rest under private sector production.
Minister Jonas confirmed that this initial 1000 acres is anticipated to be expanded in short order to obtain the largest benefits from the technical expertise.
Project Coordination will be the responsibility of The Agricultural Development
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