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Concessions & tangible investments needed to show government’s commitment to Agriculture, says local farmer


by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – Local Farmer Troy Flanders continues to hold the government’s feet to the fire concerning agriculture in St. Kitts.

During the July 12 Farm Report on Island Tea, Flanders addressed issues the farming community has had with the Ministry of Finance in releasing funds to invest in Agriculture. He suggests there is an ease with releasing funds for Trouism or Entertainment-related initiatives but reluctance to Agriculture.

Flanders raised the issues as land preparation for crop planting continues to be a problem for local farmers.

“The Ministry of Agriculture [submitted] to the Ministry of Finance a proposal to have three new tractors to assist in that area, but the submission was shut down… Three new tractors will cost less than $1.5 million, and we know there was a rumour about $1.5 million was spent for something to do with entertainment. So I am just trying to show where their priorities lie. When you look at it, the Ministry of Finance didn’t see it fit to release monies to help the farming community, but Tourism related or entertainment related, yes, they have no problem with that.”

The farmer brought with him into the studio a locally produced product, Mother Becky, which is a brand that provides high-quality, locally grown tea leaves and drinks, and compared it to an imported Canadian product (Tropical Delight) with a price already lower than the cost of the bottle and label for a Mother Becky Tea.

“Looking at this Product (Mother Becky Sorel Drink) [it’s] beautiful, well-labelled and this product could go anywhere in the world – it is certified – to go on any shelf in any supermarket. From what I get from the entrepreneur is that the cost to produce this is very high, mainly because of the cost of the bottle. The price for landing [the] bottle in St. Kitts will cost him $3.10 just for the bottle alone, that has nothing to do with the labelling. To label [it] locally, it would cost another $2.50. Though he may say he gets duty-free, the VAT is added to the cost of shipping [carrying the price back up]. My appeal to the higher powers is to take a serious look [ at concessions]… Another product, [not made in St. Kitts] (Tropical Delight), and I purchased this from off the shelf in a supermarket for $5.50 when just by the bottle and the label for [Mother Becky] made in St. Kitts is already passing the $5.50 for this (Tropical Delight). So how are we going to compete?”

In his continued appeal for the government to pay more attention to the Agriculture sector to encourage more local farming and agro-processing, he suggested the government give concessions to local agro-processors to aid them in competing in the local market dominated by imported goods.

“If the administration [takes] a serious look at productivity and if they want this industry to strive, you would try to give as many concessions as possible for a young entrepreneur just coming into the business. Removing things like the VAT, though you may say, okay, he might get this duty-free; the VAT is added [carrying up the price of the locally made product]. This business [Mother Becky] has the potential to employ many people. What can stop the guy from doing a million cases a year, just like the brewery? [operational and production costs] So right then and there, those things are job-killing because it prevents the guy from growing.”

His solution for land preparation issues that he highlighted would be to release the funds for the three new tractors the Ministry of Agriculture presented to the Ministry of Finance to add to their fleet of tractors to further help farmers and the sector. Flanders reported that one tractor was approved over the three proposed.

Outside of government assistance, the St. Kitts Farmers Consortium is working to create lending opportunities for farmers who want further to develop their businesses through First Federal Credit Union. Flanders also invited more farmers, agro-processors and others in the Federation to join the consortium to have a bigger voice in changing the trajectory of the Agriculture Sector.


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