The Grenada government will no longer be directly responsible for the loss-making state-owned Belle Vue Estate as an agreement has been signed with a company from neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago to take over the running of the farm.
A Memorandum of Understanding was initialed on ….. between officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Belle Vue Exotic Farms (BVEF) Limited operated by Lindsay Gillette and Sharon Gillette.
Belle Vue estate is the second of four government estates to be commercialized by the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) which returned to power in the February 2013 general elections.
The Grand Bras Estate was commercialized on July 8 in an agreement signed with a company operated by two former leading figures of the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution – Liam James and John “Chaulkie” Ventour – who were given long prison sentences for their part in the October 19, 1983 murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop on Fort George.
Under the deal signed with the Trinidadians, government agreed to lease them only 123 acres of the 226 acres of the Belle Vue estate in St Andrew.
A release from the Ministry of Agriculture said that the remaining acres of estate lands will remain under the management of the ministry as a reserve for future programmes.
Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Senator Simon Stiell who signed on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture described the commercialization of the latest estate as part of government’s programme to increase Grenada’s agricultural output.
“We have the potential to produce far much more than we have been in the past and opportunity to secure jobs and create new job opportunities especially within our rural communities, especially for our young men and women,” said Stiell.
He pointed out that from an economic standpoint, the commercialization of the estate would generate some much-needed foreign exchange in the country through the export of agricultural produce.
“Governments over the years have not been able to really invest the levels of resources that have been required in government estates and this administration recognises the need for us to partner with (the) private sector (in) a collaboration where government retains ownership of the government estates.
“Over the years we haven’t had the financial resources, the financial means to really invest in basic infrastructure – be it access roads, be it irrigation, be it storage, be it basic facilities for our estate workers.
“We haven’t been able to do that at a meaningful level, let alone really invest in new technology, new agricultural practices to really maximise the agricultural potential (that) each of these estates has to offer.
According to the junior minister, the near two-year old Mitchell government was engaged in a very lengthy process of reaching out to both local and regional investors to try and attract those persons who have the financial means and technical expertise to get involved in the process.
Sen. Stiell is confident that government has now found the right partner for Belle Vue Estate.
Lindsay Gillette who operates an ice cream business in Trinidad gave the background into what brought him to Grenada.
He recalled that about a year or two years ago, the company was experiencing difficulties in getting fruits to make ice cream and he undertook a swing throughout the region to look for supplies.
“…I went throughout the territories looking to see in fact we could get products to purchase and I came to Grenada and let me say from the very start I was amazed,” he said.
“This is a very productive estate and at that moment in time having gone through various discussions with the people on the estate my mind said this is where I wanted to come,” he added.
Gillette spoke of having “fruitful discussions” with the workers on the estate, as well as their bargaining agents, the Bank & General Workers Union (BGWU) and the Public Workers Union (PWU) and that no one will be sent home.
“Everyone will retain their jobs at this point in time and we will have a probationary period. Everybody has been very up front and they asked all the questions that they needed to ask and I believe we left that conversation very happy on both sides – the union, workers and both my wife and myself,” he said.
According to Gillette, he is very excited to start operations on the farm within weeks since it is a “blessed” estate.
“They are probably the largest producer of nutmegs and of course we have now entered into conversation with the GCNA (Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association) and continues those conversations because …. we are happy to enter those conversation and hopefully within the next week or two we will be meeting with various people on their Board of Directors,” he said.
Specific focus will be placed on the farm in growing fruits like, Sour sop, Guava, Passion fruit and Nutmeg.
“We have an idea as to how to develop what we have inside of there and we are already looking at alternative sections in the area, more crops like Sour sop. I don’t know how long it takes for a Sour sop to flourish, maybe a year so – hopefully this will come to a reality in the year 2015”, the Trinidad entrepreneur remarked.
“…I don’t want to call a number yet as to how much each acre will give to me and how much acres we’ll have under production and how fast we’ll accelerate that process but it will be significantly more than what exist at this moment in time,” he said.
The lease agreement for the Belle Vue estate is for 20 years.
The remaining two estates still to be commercialised by government are Mt Reuil Estate in St Patrick and Limlair Livestock Station in Carriacou.