Just for a minute, let’s forget about black sigatoka and other crop diseases. If I could get a dollar for every time I hear people talk “a bunch of stuff,” as Joe Biden would express it, about agriculture and the future of farming in this country, I would be as wealthy as the wealthiest.
Such people have all sorts of innovative, creative ideas about our tons of mangoes and oranges “wasting by the roadside” while we should be manufacturing by-products of this and that and, yes, a whole bunch of other stuff, forever putting the cart before the horse!
The most basic and fundamental requirement of farming is a market for your crops so as to cover your expenditure and avoid wastage. If you have no market for your produce then you are guaranteed, as a farmer, to fail!
The same people talking “the stuff” will tell you that there are laws in place to ensure that hotels prioritize the purchase of goods from local farmers before importing. However, they cannot tell you exactly how this is regulated when you have the hotels importing a large amount of fruit and vegetables that are available from the local farmers.
Reality for the local farmer is that he or she is often left with stock they cannot dispose of, and consequently must bear the cost of working hard to produce his crops for a failing, unregulated market. Some of the hotels will even confuse farmers by telling us they will buy from and support us, sounding so much like politicians on the campaign trail. Point me toward one extension officer from the Ministry of Agriculture that can tell me otherwise; that yes indeed they have knowledge of the quantity of goods being imported, that they are aware of the amount of stock that farmers cannot sell on the local market and the general plight of local farmers unable to sell their produce.
If not for the blessing that is Consolidated Foods Limited, I am not sure what would happen to this nation’s farmers. Long live CFL! They have always been there for the farmers to provide a sustainable avenue to relieve themselves of the burden of unsold produce. While hotels occasionally purchase from local farmers, there is still a lot more they can do! There is significant room for improvement when it comes to making it a priority to buy local.
Something needs to be done quickly, if we expect Saint Lucia ever again to climb the ladder of self-sustainability. The hotels use the excuse of lower quality local produce to indulge in importing from overseas, in the process hurting the already badly hurt local economy. If a market is not developed, then there is no room for it to improve. Another case of cart before horse!
There are also other people stifling the local market by flooding the country with imported produce alternatives. Who, then, is regulating this economic catastrophe? Gone are the days when extension officers would make their presence felt among the farmers to address their needs and concerns.
The Ministry needs to monitor and regulate the industry by reducing the number of import licenses that for the farmer and other local producers are the equivalent of WMDs.
— Concerned Farmer