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Broad shoulders, open mind

It will require broad shoulders from the individual appointed to represent Grenadian farmers on the soon to be announced Technical Working Group (TWG) to forge the path to a replacement for the Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB). Carrying the weight, and yes, the vision, of so many diverse producers will require strength of purpose.

When the Prime Minister addressed a post Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, he disclosed the established of the TWG, which is tasked with helping government create a new entity in the form of a Public Private Partnership (PPP). This is in keeping with the general sentiments of farmers, agro-processors and others at the town hall meetings in January to address the demise of the MNIB, a statutory body that has accumulated debt over the years totalling at least $15.1 million.

The suggestions from participants were as diverse as the farming community; many expressed hope, others presented visions for a future entity and still others wanted farmers and agro-processors involved, somehow.

The Prime confirmed the TWG has a chairman, and indicated it will comprise a representative of the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce, a legal representative from the private sector, a legal representative from the Attorney General’s Chambers, a representative for farmers in mainland Grenada and one for farmers in Carriacou. He even made reference to a farmer from Carriacou, who was most expressive during the public consultations. However, the composition was later clarified with a Government Information Service (GIS) press release stating the TWG comprises a chair, a representative for farmers, a representative for the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce, a representative for the Ministry of Agriculture, a representative for legal affairs and a representative for Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

This leaves us to conclude that the representative for farmers on the TWG has the responsibility to bring the interests of all farmers in our nation to the table. What a challenge that presents. With the exception of nutmeg and cocoa farmers who have long established legislative foundations, there are several other groups that have, over the years, sought to represent the farming community. From beekeepers to sour sop farmers; from poultry producers to organic farmers; parish groups, women’s groups, as well as cooperatives and community based organisations; farmers and agro processors have been part of the agricultural landscape for decades. The number and variety may ebb and flow with the economy, impacts of natural disasters and changing weather patterns; yet remain fundamental to our survival.

The bottom line is food security. It is in this light that we recognise the enormity what the farmers’ representative on the TWG, with six months to complete its assignment commencing March 01, must do during that time to ensure he/she truly represents all farmers, agro-processors and their interests.

Of parallel interest is the 90-day deadline Minister of State with responsibility for Agriculture and Lands, Fisheries and Co-operatives Senator Hon Adrian Thomas has given the Ministry to produce “concrete policies” to “save the industry.” This commitment to the Grenada Association of Poultry Producers is due May 01.

One may ask who really keeps track of these farm organisations and how do they get chosen to attend workshops and training sessions here and abroad? How do they attract the attention of senior government ministers at public consultations? How do they operate these farmer organisations in terms of member support?

Last December the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations collaborated with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and Grenada’s Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Fisheries and Cooperatives to roll out a ‘Capacity Building and Training’ for farmers’ organisations. The FAO reports that the launch and workshop attracted 31 representatives of seven farmers’ organisations and was held under the Farmers’ Organizations for African, Caribbean, and Pacific Programme.

There are obvious criteria to be met and those selected must meet such criteria, but what about the countless others unaware of such opportunities or may even be excluded?

All indications from Prime Minister Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Export Development Hon Joseph Andall and Minister Thomas are that the PPP will focus on storage, logistics, preservation, distribution and selling of Grenadian crops and agro-processed goods in international markets. That is far-reaching in its scope. And, intertwined in this agenda for so many farmers is the availability of land.

It was also clear during the press briefing that the government, in pursuit of its transformation agenda, will look for investors and experts wherever they see fit to drive this process. As the demise of the MNIB marks what may be considered a new beginning for the agricultural sector, we wish the new TWG and in particular the individual representing our farming community, every success. 


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