Farmers associated with the two main commodity boards continue to oppose government’s plan to have the nutmeg and cocoa sub-sectors liberalised.
During a special meeting of the Social Partners last month which was void of any farmers’ associations and chaired by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, discussion centered around recommendations made by Compete Caribbean with regards to the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA), and the Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) on the way forward.
The recommendation on liberalisation formed part of a project called “Strengthening the export competitiveness in Grenada’s agricultural sector.”
There were four components of the project including a review of the investment incentives for agriculture, the governance and business models of the boards, review of the legislation, and to build capacity within the associations to meet international quality standard.
Compete Caribbean is a private sector development programme that provides technical assistance, grants and funding to support productive development policies, business climate reforms, clustering initiatives, and small and medium-sized enterprise development activities in the Caribbean region.
GCA Director Flavian Antoine told a radio programme that is produced by civil society, he believes there is a sinister move to hide from both associations what is being done.
Antoine said that coming out of a meeting the farmers had last year with an official from Compete Caribbean, a promise was made to them to make his preliminary report available for them to study.
According to Antoine, the promise was never fulfilled, but the report was sent to the Ministry of Agriculture and “other places.”
The GCA Director pointed out that since 1938, Grenada is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that started to take a serious look at cocoa, and to develop its processing to get the best flavour.
He believes the local cocoa would not have been able to sell on the international market had it not been for its quality.
Antoine said the cocoa association is paid based on the quality of cocoa produced, and not quantity.
He expressed fears that if the industry is liberalised some of the checks and balances that GCA has in place to ensure the best quality of cocoa is sold on the international market will drop.
“The association has done a number of things to improve traceability, to maintain quality, and to negotiate for the best price. The association is striving now… not to negotiate with middlemen nor brokers, we’re going straight to end users so you’ll get a better price,” he said.
“What we have is quality, and we have to protect our quality, and get the best returns for our quality,” he added.
Antoine spoke of cocoa farmers receiving eighty-three cents of every dollar that GCA receives for sale of the product.
There are about 3,500 farmers associated with GCA.
Member of the Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Sandra Ferguson who attended the meeting said given the far-reaching implications of the recommendations laid down by Compete Caribbean, members of the Social Partners did not think that they can take a position at that moment.
Ferguson said CSO has noted that the November 2014 Letter of Intent to the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) indicated that government will move to liberalise certain sectors to boost private sector participation, and expand capacity.
She stated that CSO believes there is need for a number of changes in the associations to address the governance issue, and to ensure that farmers can maximise benefits from production, and that the associations are capable of handling the tasks.
However, she said CSO is concerned that the associations could be dismantled which would leave small farmers and small producers exposed.
According to Ferguson, although they have been advised that the liberalisation had nothing to do with the IMF SAP, the Letter of Intent speaks to increasing efficiency by modernising the nutmeg and cocoa sub-sectors with the Compete Caribbean project.
She said one cannot dispute that there are challenges and problems to be solved.
“We have to be careful that what is being proposed – modernization – is not equaled to liberalisation,” she remarked.