The images of smoke being released from a barbeque grill or a remodeled drum garnished with seasoned treats often signal the approaching weekend in Saint Lucia. In every corner of the island, chickens receive their last rites – they are ceremoniously stripped of their plumage, chopped to the delight of customers, dipped in local seasoning and later smoked to appease thousands of waiting taste buds. As the smoke leaves the grill, people gather around to reminisce on the weekly events which evaded the news; the late pay cheques, the penny-pinching bosses, the teenagers lost in the euphoria and confusion of adolescence and the wives waiting at home to ration the month’s pittance. Behind all these scenes, the poultry farmer perseveres.Poultry farmers work tirelessly every day on farms all over the island. They feed the birds, ensure proper ventilation of the surroundings, consistently monitor the behaviour of the flock, collaborate with animal nutritionists and keep detailed records of happenings on the farm. Without their hard work, weekends would undeniably be void of that unmistakable aroma and savour of roasted chicken. Spontaneous gatherings by strangers at the roadsides would cease and the weekend entrepreneurs would be forced to re-embrace the plight of the unemployed.
In recent times, the Saint Lucia Poultry Association (SLPA) has been featured prominently in the news for a plethora of reasons, chief of them being the high cost of local chicken and the increase in the local poultry quota. In a bid to bring the island “closer to sustainability”, the SLPA has welcomed the move to increase the quota from 25% to 40%.
The association alone cannot achieve the objective of “self-sufficiency”, however noble. It must be a collaborative venture between the Ministry of Agriculture and the poultry farmers. President of the SLPA, Isaac Alphonse acknowledges that it would be very difficult for poultry producers to grow the industry in the face of rigid government policy and international trade requirements. “The answer lies in repelling aged trade laws that provide benefits to the developed world at the expense of Small Island Developing States. Essentially, the efforts of all stakeholders should be focused on providing a quality product with the aim to enhance food security. It should not be on maximizing profits,” he says.
Further, the association too must make a deliberate effort to convince the nation of the importance of such an industry in achieving food security and lowering the mounting import bill. Records from the Caribbean Poultry Association (CPA) reveal that the poultry industries in the named developed states of the region are gradually achieving the status of “self-sufficient” while the Windward Islands and Haiti continue to battle to keep up with the small quotas amidst high import percentages. “This is so because locals have not been thoroughly convinced to look away from the notion that “anything local is bad”. They have been seduced by the hollow assumption that “foreign is better” and this ideology has single-handedly crippled industries while sending many others to their graves,” Alphonse says.
Who is to blame for these perceptions? Have governments and business owners failed in convincing the people that supporting local initiatives serves to better our economies, strengthen our entrepreneurs and reinforce lasting linkages? Are customers adequately informed of the product before them? Has the SLPA effectively marketed the product to the consumers? In the past, “we did not see the need to promote the local chicken as the market was so small,” Alphonse admits, but with a rejuvenated, zealous association he hopes to convince St. Lucians that “local is better, healthier and far superior than that which is imported.”