By Demion McTair. Updated 8:50 p.m., Sunday, January 15, 2023, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
A preliminary list of the minimum prices for agricultural produce will soon be released by the Government, Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar said.
According to Mr. Caesar who is currently the longest serving agriculture minister in CARICOM, the list will be released for public consultation.
The move to release the list comes in the wake of a growing dispute between farmers and traffickers/traders of agricultural commodities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The issue is that farmers are making less money than the value of their produce because traffickers who buy the farmers’ goods set the final prices for the commodities.
In an exclusive interview with One News SVG on Friday, Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar said: “traffickers can expect that before the end of the month (January) a list will be released publicly with the minimum prices varying categories of agricultural commodities could be sold for.”
He said: “the list will go out for public consultation.
The minister who thanked traffickers and middle men for their services said he will hold a meeting with them.
Caesar said he also plans to lead a delegation with ministry officials, traffickers, and perhaps a farmer to Trinidad and Tobago where many of the agricultural products are sold.
There, he will speak to supermarket operators, middlemen, purchasers and government officials in Trinidad as it relates to the current impasse.
Minister Caesar said there is an impasse because farmers recently refused to sell their produce to traffickers/traders who tried to purchase.
“Farmers have started to resit the prices from traffickers,” the minister said.
The farmers’ refusal came after statements Mr. Caesar made in Parliament last week during the budget debate about the unfair prices which farmers’ produce are being given.
The agriculture minister said he has dissected the problem and is urging farmers to stand their ground.
He said: “if traffickers cannot meet the minimum price for markets they are selling to, we will find alternative markets and form new trade platforms.”
Caesar said it is the policy of the government to work with existing traffickers and give them a final chance.
He said the government has a history of raising the minimum prices for produce with a strong example being the move of arrowroot from XCD $0.25 cents per pound to $1.00 per pond after negotiations with buyers in the USA.
The pressure on traffickers/traders
If it costs a farmer $100 to produce a sack of dasheens, the traffickers could bid them down to $40 for that sack resulting in a loss to the farmer, the minister said. The traffickers will then sell that $40 sack for $80, making twice as much as the farmer.
When the goods arrive in Trinidad, there will be a “fire stick sale” since all the produce must go due to the absence of storage. The middlemen will buy the produce and then resell them for sometimes four times the price they received them for. They will then sell them to supermarkets in Trinidad.
These inflationary prices are affecting the Trinidadian customers and negatively impacting regional food security, Mr. Caesar said.
In the end too, though farming is profitable, farmers in SVG are robbed of the profits and the consumers in other countries are charged too much, he said.
Minister Caesar said this situation must change and he is proposing the establishment of a Food Terminal Market with storage in Trinidad and Tobago for the traffickers from SVG.
There are over 11,000 registered farmers and some 300 traffickers.
The value of trafficking, traffickers, and middlemen
Minister Caesar said that with the demise of the banana industry caused by the removal of trade preferences, the main exporters of food from St. Vincent and the Grenadines are the traffickers.
He said while he thanks the traffickers for their hard work, dedication, and forthrightness, there are two issues impacting the work and role of the traffickers.
The first issue is the fact that the traffickers can no longer travel to destinations because of the absence of transportation, thus creating a reliance on middlemen. He said he also thanks the middlemen for their role.
The second issue he said surrounds the fact that traffickers/traders with all their efforts in attempting to market are not all the time the best persons to determine the prices of the commodities.
He said this is why the government’s minimum price list is important.
The new minimum price list which will be released for public discussion will take into account the increase in price for fertilizer and other factors farmers are facing.