by Eulana Weekes
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): “We are suffering”, said Troy Flanders, a local farmer, as he pleaded for residents and businesses in St. Kitts to develop a culture of buying local agricultural produce to support the sector during the Wednesday, July 05 edition of The Farm Report on Island Tea.
“Currently, as we speak, the farming community [is] suffering. We are suffering. Our market share is about 70 to 80% less than what it used to be, maybe five to six years ago. So we are suffering. You find that most of the major supermarkets don’t really do a lot of business with us.”
Flanders reiterated that the first step in ensuring that the local farmers are comfortable is for the Government to introduce import licences and slow down the imports of agricultural produce into the Federation.
“Let us look at the situation in Nevis. You ain’t hear the Nevis farmers crying out because they are protected… The supermarkets have to get an import licence from the Ministry to bring in anything in Nevis.”
“What can be a short-term relief ?” asked Island Tea’s hostess Candisie Franklin, to which Flanders replied, “The same import licence.”
Local farmers have been forced to decrease their amount of farm crops due to the lack of support in the local market.
“Look at a commodity like bell peppers. I was told by one farmer that he used to plant 100 trays of bell peppers every month, but now he’s down to 30 trays because when you plant the peppers, “Where are you going to sell [them]?” I don’t want to come here and preach doom and gloom, but the reality is what it is.”
“I know there is a farmer also that has tons of carrots on the Agriculture chill, can’t move, while tons of carrots keep coming into our shores. This is a serious issue that we are facing.”
Disruption to the livelihood of farmers in St. Kitts is widespread, as most of the farmers, according to Troy, are unable to do the basic things that farmers used to do before.
“As a result of what’s going on, you find that most farmers right now are having difficulties financially, and it’s a real, real struggle. Farmers back then used to build their own homes, farmers used to buy their own equipment. Now farmers could hardly repair their own equipment. They have [the] equipment, but they can’t repair them.”
Mr Flanders agreed with Island Tea’s host Azard Gumbs that the farmers have been engaged in several meetings with Agricultural officials, but no relief has come through for the farmers as yet. He said while they continued to wait, “the farmer’s situation is getting worse.”
The Chinese supermarkets, said Flanders, are more supportive of the farming community, but the overall support from supermarkets in St. Kitts is not bringing much benefit to the farmers.
“We would get certain things moved by the Chinese supermarkets. Then you would find that as you go up the chain with the supermarkets, they do take [produce], but it’s less. Based on the ranking in the chain of the supermarkets, it’s less local produce they take.
Flanders envisions a sustainable, long-term future for the Agricultural sector in St. Kitts if the necessary actions by the Ministry of Agriculture are taken.
“We have fertile soil, but unfortunately, the farming community might be extinct. We might not be able to utilise our fertile soil because as things are right now, the trend that we’re going, I don’t think we have two years left.”
Callers to ‘Farm Report’ gave several suggestions. Some said it would be best to re-establish the Central Marketing Corporation. A caller said farmers should develop their own farmers’ market. Another said farmers should drive around and sell their produce. Some callers suggested better presentation of produce, whilst others recommend that farmers pay attention to forecasting and be more consistent with their produce. As it relates to consistency, a recommendation was made by one caller, who said that farmers should work together in groups, and each group focus on producing specific crops.
The 25 by 25 Agenda seeks to reduce the food import bill in the region by 25% by 2025. Flanders is not optimistic that it would be fulfilled in the Federation by that time frame.
“I’m telling you, at the rate we are going, we are talking about 25 % by 2030. We are in the seventh month in 2023; we’re yet to roll out anything. “So how could we make it to 25% by 2025?” You are talking about a year and a half. So, if you’re talking about 25% by 2030, that is more realistic.”