Chief Executive Officer of the Marketing National Importing Board (MNIB), Ruel Edwards, has dismissed reports that the state-owned body is refusing to export produce to a major food importer who is based in the Brooklyn New York area.
“That is news to me”, Edwards told THE NEW TODAY newspaper in an exclusive interview last week Thursday in which he brushed aside an accusation made last week Monday by Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Senator Nazim Burke.
The Congress leader who made the charge at the weekly NDC press conference told reporters that the information in his possession is not hearsay but came directly from the affected importer himself.
“I have no reason to lie. I was in New York a few weeks ago and I spoke to the gentleman who is the largest importer of food in the Brooklyn area”, said Burke.
He did not identify the individual by name but said he “is a Grenadian by birth, who imports large quantities of food from Grenada”.
According to Burke the man claimed that the Marketing Board “is refusing to sell him produce”.
However, Edwards denied having knowledge about the allegation.
“I would like to know who that importer is and that importer should give us the list of requirements that he has so that we can reach out and sell to him right away”, he said.
“We have one customer in New York, we have customers in Boston, Miami (and) Huston and what we are seeking to do is to increase exports from Grenada”, he added.
Edwards also pointed to challenges being experienced as it relates to exporting food items out of the country to New York.
“We have some challenges in terms of flight connection (as) there is no direct flight (from Grenada) going to New York. So we have to use American Airlines (AA) or Caribbean Airlines (CA) to try to get produce into New York”, he said.
The MNIB boss also explained that “when there is embargo with American Airlines it is not possible for you to ship into New York.”
“I think it is critically important that we address the airlift scenario for cargo for exports coming from Grenada at the airport- and have other logistics in place to facilitate greater exports but certainly any opportunity to export we would gladly accept it because that’s our mandate”, he said.
“What we want to do is to increase exports coming from Grenada. So if there is that particular customer I would love to meet him and he should give us his requirements so that we can work with the farming population and create a production plan to satisfy his requirements”, he added.
Burke also used the Congress press conference to address concerns over reports about MNIB’s failure to sell the produce purchased from farmers and was dumping large quantities of produce due to spoilage.
Burke said his party is getting these reports from MNIB outlets in River Road, St. George’s and Grenville, St. Andrew’s.
“…If the reports we are hearing are correct then perhaps as much as hundreds and thousands of dollars are being lost in spoilage each year”, said Sen. Burke at the press conference.
He went on to say: “I spoke to one farmer a few days ago, who reported to me his horror to personally witness tons of oranges being placed in a garbage truck and when the compression device was employed, gallons of orange juice were falling off from the truck as the truck drove off.
“This is a farmer who sells oranges to the MNIB telling me of this.
It is an unacceptable situation and it is unacceptable at many different levels.
“The issue of dumping fruits after it is spoiled cannot be justified under any conditions.
Sen. Burke suggested that if the food cannot be sold then the MNIB should give it to schools, hospitals, elderly and children’s homes in the country.
“They can even use the spoilage to feed animals. It would make sense rather than throwing it away”, Sen. Burke said.
In response to this, Edwards said he is not aware of such incidents, adding that “because you are dealing with fresh produce there will be waste and spoilage”.
“What we have done that people are not aware of (is) whatever produce that is not acceptable for consumption those have been going into composting. We have a number of composting sites that we have been working with and that compost is actually going to go back to the farmers”, he remarked.
According to Edwards, there are farmers who are involved in animal husbandry and “we (MNIB) have been supplying them with feeding material for their animals”.
Another issue that was addressed by the MNIB CEO relates to statements made by Sen. Burke concerning sugar purchased by Marketing Board through “a middle man” at higher price to local consumers as it moved away from buying sugar directly from suppliers in both Trinidad and Guyana.
“We are hearing that the sugar being purchased by the MNIB is being brought in through a middle man (who is) buying the sugar and selling it to the MNIB at some kind of profit, whereas in the past the MNIB used to buy the sugar directly from suppliers in Trinidad and Guyana,” Sen. Burke said.
However, Edwards affirmed that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GYSUCO) is the main supplier of brown sugar for the MNIB and that Trinidad does not produce brown sugar.
“So certainly people need to understand the nature of the business and if they don’t have information, find out than to spread things that (are) absolutely ridiculous and not true”, Edwards said.