In a period marked by global food shortages and disruptions in supply chains because of the Covid 19 pandemic, the small island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is experiencing an oversupply of vegetables on its local market. One farmer voiced,
“Consumers are celebrating some of the best Christmas prices for vegetables in decades and we are hoping that prices do not fall below the cost of production. It is commendable that the island continues to prove the resilience and potential of the agriculture sector, both to ensure food security and create livelihoods for many families.”
The island’s Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Saboto Caesar explained that among the causes of the current situation of a significant increase in the supply of vegetables, are the volcanic eruptions of La Soufriere which forced many farmers in the Green and Yellow Zones to increase production to compensate for lost production in the Red and Orange Zones.
Secondly, the support provided to farmers during the recovery package assisted with seeds, seedlings, fertilizer, land preparation and income support from the Government. Also, many international agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) supplied vegetable seeds directly to farmers or through government-assisted programmes; and thirdly, the decline in the demand for vegetables because of the slowdown in the hospitality industry due to the pandemic. Caesar told St. Vincent Times,
“It is the intention of the Ministry of Agriculture to advance the vegetable sub-sector as a part of the national diversification strategy in agriculture.”
Earlier this year the Minister launched a programme to decrease the food import bill. This was supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office in Barbados, headed by Dr Renata Clarke, advocating a national “Buy Local Campaign”.
Further, the launch of “Operations Green Sprout” and the Producers Cooperative Union (an unregistered group of young entrepreneurs in agriculture) has aided in mobilizing support for the sub-sector.
A Canadian NGO group led by Dwight Anderson and family, through one of this country’s ambassadors, H.E Fitz Huggins, has provided a platform for continued sponsorship from West Coast Seeds, which has already introduced 75 new varieties of vegetables to the country.
The Minister has publicly thanked the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and particularly the Director-General Manuel Otero, for the continued support to increase the production of vegetables in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. IICA is represented locally by Mr Michael Dalton. Minister Caesar also commended the technicians in the Ministry of Agriculture and the stakeholders in the vegetable value chain.
The Minister concluded that the government is asking all consumers to advance the cause of purchasing locally produced vegetables and that the Ministry will help by streamlining production to better satisfy market demands, inclusive of seasonal spikes. He encouraged farmers to work closely with marketers to explore exporting vegetables, and recommitted overall support to farmers in 2022. Minister Caesar explained,
“We have proven to everyone that we have the expertise to supply, we must now sustain the production needed to meet the demands of local and possibly some regional markets with consistency in quality, quantity and price.”
The Ministry is currently in conversation with a major telecommunications provider to provide greater support to the farmers in 2022.