The operators of Grenada Innovative Farms Ltd (GIF) have sought to clear the air on allegations made by Agriculture Minister, Roland Bhola that they have failed to live up to expectations with the State farm given to them as part of the privatisation of Government estates.
Two of the principal figures in GIF are John “Chalkie” Ventour and Liam “Owusu” James who were leading members of the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution.
Ventour and James spent several years at the Richmond Hill prison after being convicted along with fifteen other government and army officials for the 1983 murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop at Fort George.
Minister Bhola told reporters last week that the 3-year old Keith Mitchell-led government has given GIF a six-month deadline to improve the estate pending which some form of action will be taken.
Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) administration is under pressure from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut expenditure by addressing a number of loss-making state bodies.
THE NEW TODAY reproduces in full the statement issued by Innovative Farms in light of the ultimatum given by Minister Bhola:
On September 1, 2014, Grenada Innovative Farms Ltd (GIF) took over an unsuccessful, loss-making farm, the Grand Bras Estate, from the government of Grenada.
2. Based on data supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, it was one of the poorest performing farms being commercialized by the government, with very low worker productivity and an undisciplined workforce. Many of the workers were used to working only 3 hours each day, and there was a lack of adequate tools and equipment. GIF was also informed that there was also employee theft.
3. In 2012, Grand Bras Estate earned $45,000 a year in revenues.
4. During the 7-year period 2006-2012, the TOTAL revenues made by this government of Grenada owned farm, which had 26 employees, was $129,409.52. Average annual wages and salaries were $357,106.80: a wage bill of approx 2.8 million dollars from 2006-2013. When one adds other expenses per year the government would have been losing close to half-a-million dollars each year from this one estate alone.
5. Despite many challenges facing Grand Bras the farm has made considerable progress. Based on any business indicator one chooses, Grand Bras is in much better shape today than before.
6. There were 26 employees on the farm: 21 farm workers, 2 security and 3 administration workers, GIF agreed to keep 17 persons: 16 farm workers and security, plus the manager.
7. 3 persons including the manager left voluntarily: 2 within the first month after we took over; and another left in February 2015.
8. Unfortunately, management also had to end the employment of 3 of the workers who did not meet performance requirements: one before the probation ended; and two others, even after extending their probation period by several months and giving them an opportunity to improve.
9. The employment of another 3 workers was ended on Sep 28, 2015 for poor performance; and 2 workers were dismissed for disciplinary reasons between September and December 2015.
10. As a result, 6 workers (4 farm workers and 2 security workers) remain from the 14 who decided to stay on.
11. Over the period of operations, GIF hired 7 new farm workers; plus a general manager, sales manager and an executive assistant / office manager who also helps with Human Relations and Accounting. GIF also hired an operations manager but that position was terminated to cut costs.
12. In addition, we have also hired between 4-5 part-time employees whom we use as flex workers to meet short-term needs.
13. GIF also unilaterally increased the salaries of most of the inherited permanent farm workers. The average wage on September 1, 2014 (when GIF took over) was $49.60. At one point the average increase was 20%, at $59.31.
Increase in Production at Grand Bras
14. While production and revenues at Grand Bras have significantly grown from an increase in the percentage of cultivated land for short crop production, output and revenues have also increased from the traditional tree crops. For example, cocoa production grew by 6,549.33 lbs (from 14,405.67 lbs in 2014 to 20,955 lbs in 2015 during the same period, January-August): a 45% increase, providing revenues of $31,432.50.
15. Total Revenues for Jan-Aug 2015 were $110,077.02, nearly tripling the government’s $40,369.54 made during the same period in 2014, with about half the previous workforce.
16. Total Revenues for GIF’s first year of operations, Sep 1, 2014 to Aug 31, 2015 were $131,960.02. This is more than the $129,409.52 the government made in the 7 years during 2006-2012.
17. And Total Revenues for the calendar year January-December 2015 were $151,295. This is $21,886 more than the government made during the 7 years, 2006-2012.
18. All of this, plus operational improvements on the farm, provides clear evidence of the correctness of the government’s courageous decision to commercialize the farm.
Challenges Facing Grand Bras
19. Despite the increase in production and revenues, with a significantly reduced workforce, GIF has not yet been able to meet its revenue forecasts in order to breakeven. The business, after 1½ year of operations, has NOT yet been able to cover its operating costs.
20. GIF has yet to overcome the challenge of making the business both stable and consistently predictable, meeting forecasts and targets.
21. Poor work attitude, low productivity and low skill level of many of the workers on a historically unproductive farm.
Until this problem is solved, Grand Bras cannot produce sufficiently for the local market, much less Export markets.
How Have We Sought To Fix The Problem
22. We have:
(a) been compelled to lay off the most unproductive workers.
(b) replaced those workers with others from the surrounding community who possess the requisite skills and experience, and organized them into teams with special responsibility.
(c) employed a very skilled and experienced farmer from the community as the Supervisor / Production Manager.
(d) developed a six-month Production/Revenue Plan that has set measurable targets, which is currently being tracked and implemented.
23. Even with all the focus on the central problem we have been confronted with, that of the low skill level and poor attitude to work of many of the workers, ultimately the responsibility for the success of this, or any, business lies with management. As such management has to take responsibility for the shortcomings thus far.
24. From day one of operations GIF has demonstrated its goodwill and positive attitude to workers in a variety of ways by:
• raising the wages of some workers who initially demonstrated a serious commitment to work and making this business success, by as much as 42.6%, within the first year of operations
• providing work boots, aprons, gloves of different types, hats, rain cloaks, flashlights, etc. for the workers
• providing new tools and equipment
• a Benefit Fund for workers (one female worker received this: she did not have to pay for her breast lumpectomy surgery at the hospital; plus she was paid her full wages for the 4 weeks she was on sick leave).
Yet, this low worker productivity of some workers has continued.
Meetings with Grand Bras Workers and the BGWU
25. Concerned about the poor performance and low productivity of the original workers on the farm, the company held a meeting of GIF Management with the Grand Bras workers, and the President and Field Officer of the BGWU on two separate occasions: September 28, 2015 and November 10, 2015.
In those meetings management openly and frankly raised and discussed its dissatisfaction with the performance of the workers and how it was adversely affecting our production and revenue targets, and the financial position of the company. Management appealed to the workers to do better, pointing out that workers’ jobs were on the line, unless things improved.
26. Three (3) subsequent meetings were also held with the BGWU to
(a) bring the union up to date on the state of the business,
(b) inform the union of disciplinary action against workers, and
(c) discuss late payment of salaries.
Meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture
27. Meetings have also been held with the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss the progress, challenges and state of the business.
28. The above information was provided at the most recent meeting on Wednesday March 2, 2016, which included the attorney general.
29. GIF informed the meeting that it was projecting to stabilize the business by July / August 2016, and that it would provide quarterly reports of its progress to the Ministry (starting, end of May 2016)