Government is satisfied with the work already done by the two companies awarded contracts to take charge of state-owned farms under a new commercialisation lease agreement.
According to Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Simon Stiell the companies have started work on the farms at Grand Bras Estate and BelleVue Estate and although these are early days, the near two-year old administration in St. George’s is satisfied with what has been done so far.
“…We are satisfied with what we’ve seen and what we are seeing,” Sen. Stiell told reporters at a recent post-Cabinet Press Briefing.
The Grand Bras Estate is now in the hands of Grenada Innovative Farms that involves some former revolutionary figures of the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution while the BelleVue estate is controlled by BelleVue Exotic Farms that is controlled by a Trinidad national.
He said although the contract for the BelleVue estate was signed only last week, the new operators already have men in place working on the ground.
“… I believe there are 17 workers who are originally government workers – all have been retained at BelleVue so they have continued employment and they are working now under the management of BelleVue Exotic Farm”, he added.
“…In extensive dialogue with the estate workers themselves and with the unions that represent them, (we) came up with agreements that are in the interest of the workers, government and the private investors – in fact we believe that we have found the right balance there,” he said.
According to Sen. Stiell, during the weeks leading up to the signing of the agreement, the new company was given access to the estate to familiarise themselves with the operations.
The junior minister once again defended government’s position to lease out the state farms since government had not been doing a good job of managing these estates over the years.
He said over the last four years alone, government invested $5 million into the estates and received only $1 million in return as revenue.
He added that government is looking to the new arrangement to run the estates to impact significantly on the island’s food import bill.
“This is a time where we as a nation need to increase our agricultural production to feed ourselves, the whole issue of food security, the need for us to bring down our food import bill”, he said.
“Grenada currently imports in the region of 200 million dollars of food per year so this also offers a significant opportunity for our farmers to produce more and to help re-stimulate the agricultural sector”, he added.
Sen. Stiell disclosed that the lease agreements are for 20 and 30 years respectively with the Grand Bras and BelleVue estates.
He gave assurances that government will be monitoring the companies to ensure that they fulfill their obligations as signed in the agreement.
“We set a very clear framework as to what we require of them and what we require of the estates and these have been reflected in the contractual agreement. There are terms and conditions that these companies have to adhere to (and these) will be monitored, will be managed, will be assessed ….”, he said.
Sen. Stiell told reporters that there are only two estates left to be commercialized – Mt Reuil Estate and Limlair in Carriacou.
He said the bidding process for Mt Reuil has been reopened and two bids were received and that the commercialisation committee set up by government is currently assessing them.
He said a recommendation is made, it will hopefully be presented to Cabinet in early December.
As it relates to Limlair estate in Carriacou, Sen. Stiell pointed out that a different approach will be used as to what was done in Grenada.
He noted that Limlair is a much smaller estate around 40 acres in size while those on mainland are much bigger in the region of 200 acres.
He said the current focus in Limlair is livestock and not tree crops as was the case with those estates in Grenada.