Published: Sep 8, 2021

St. Croix–The Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens, met Wednesday at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix to hear from members of the fishing and farming industry regarding the overall administrations and operation of the industries.
The committee also considered Bill No.34-0047- sponsored by Senator Samuel Carrión – An Act requiring the Agriculture Department and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) to create a plan to develop a seed banking program to store and preserve seeds for preservation against climate change, natural disasters, and other situations that could lead to the destruction of crops, plants, and other fauna and flora.
Dr. Usman Adamu, Director of UVI School of Agriculture, said the Bill Summary denotes a seed bank similar to what is in existence in large, well-maintained by the USDA and worldwide. He added that the Bill should instead establish a Community Seed Bank with local government oversight in conjunction with the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) for support. He pointed out that the community seed bank should focus on the crops which are grown in the Virgin Islands.
Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Diana Collingwood said the department supported the bill and commended Senator Carrión and his staff for proposing this Bill that addresses a critical community food security need relative to preserving crop diversity through collecting and storing many of our local seeds.
She added that community partnerships with the government through the Department of Agriculture and UVI along with other stakeholders would be an integral component of the proposed making the seed bank project work. Collingwood noted that collaborative partnerships would offer support on the appropriate venues, sources of funding, organizational systems for tracking seeds, and people involved helping publicize the project and provide linkages to networks of contacts and clientele.
All members present at the hearing – Senators Gittens, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Javan E. James Sr., Dwayne M. DeGraff, and Novelle E. Francis Jr., – voted in support of Bill 34-0047 and forwarded it to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
Senators heard testimonies from Gene Brin, a local commercial fisherman and Dale Browne, local farmer who pointed out some of the concerns they have experienced that have made making a living difficult for them. Both described ways that process could be streamlined, how more assistance could be offered and expressed interest in being more intricately involved in the decision making for the industries.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol, provided an update on his department’s efforts regarding hurricane and COVID-19 relief funds, reporting that beginning with their Fisheries Disaster Hurricane Relief Program, as of September 2, 2021, a total of $5,210,500 has been paid out since the program’s start in June 2020. He added that currently, 12 applications which were received in August requesting a total of just under 230,000 are being processed at DPNR.
According to Commissioner Oriol, DPNR had allocated approximately $9.7 million towards direct assistance to fishers. They have not received that level of funding in requests, so DPNR will be implementing a second payment of $5,000 to all fishers who previously applied to the program. Concerning the CARES ACT, Oriol mentioned that the federal Office of Management and Budget announced in September 2020 that it was making $939,000 available in stimulus funds to the Virgin Islands for fisheries-related losses.
Gary Halyard, Acting Director of the Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Division said the Department of Labor has implemented a number of federal assistance programs to help through the difficult financial time for fishers and farmers. According to Halyard, all State and territories have been given until June 2022 to continue processing eligible claims filed before the program’s sunset which was on September 4, 2021
Senators at Wednesday meeting also included non-committee members Genevieve R. Whitaker and Samuel Carrión.

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