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Yes to merger, No to liberalization

Farmers displeased with ‘take over’ attempt

The two local associations representing nutmeg and cocoa farmers are planning a counter strategy to Government’s plan to ‘hastily’ merge both associations and liberalise the sector.

Chairman of the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA), Leo Cato, revealed this to The Grenadian Voice on Wednesday.

PS Ministry of Agriculture Elvis Morain

Cato said the GCNA and the Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA), which are tackling this issue jointly, are open to a merger but believe that liberalization of the sector will be the demise of the industry.

While the GCNA has been meeting with farmers islandwide to discuss the issue over the past days, Cocoa farmers are to meet in the coming days.

The GCNA Chairman said they learnt of Government’s decision in the meeting of the Merger Oversight Committee earlier this month, when the 32-page draft bill was presented for discussion and decision-taking, without adequate time to peruse the bill.

“You need legal advice, your board needs to look at it and your members need to know what’s going on,” Cato said.

The heads of both associations learnt that Government intends to dissolve both associations and have a new group formed that will be responsible for managing the nutmeg and cocoa industry in Grenada.

“This means the associations will cease to exist,” Cato stated. He questions what happens to the workers and severance to be paid to those who will be terminated, as well as the contracts the associations entered with companies overseas for trade.

In a bid to share the benefits with the farmers, the GCNA started in 1947 and the GCA was formed in 1964.

At present, the GCNA has the monopoly to export nutmegs but Cato said government’s proposal will bring an end to that and individual farmers will be allowed to do as they please with their produce.

“We see this as a recipe for chaos,” the GCNA Chairman said, citing that there will be inconsistency in the quality of produce exported.

He foresees that Grenada’s reputation for its quality nutmegs will disappear because “unlike all the other competing countries, it’s only one agency that processes nutmegs and cocoa for export. So, you have a guaranteed quality coming out.”

Noting that Grenada is small compared to other producing countries, Cato pointed out that Grenada may not have the volume to trade, there is no guarantee of inventory because a farmer can sell to whoever, wherever.

“This puts us in a state of havoc, and this is what I think has caused the militancy and disgust among farmers. We don’t think this is the right way to handle it. We believe that a merger may make sense based on how it is done,” he said, citing benefits in cost reduction and efficiency.

But the idea of liberalization, he said, is what is going to kill the sector once and for all as he referenced what happened in Nigeria and Jamaica.

He is also dissatisfied that Government did not first have a discussion with the farmers on its intention and questioned the reason for the rushed approach.  

Discussions of the merger dates back to 2002 but Cato said the merger hasn’t happened as both parties were not willing to do accordingly, according to studies done.

Most importantly, he said the assets of the GCNA are not defined; therefore, they had been trying to get the Government to add to the ordinance, a line that puts the assets of the association in the hands of the farmers.

“It begs the question, when you merge and you need to merge assets what do the GCNA merge, since according to the ordinance the Minister of Agriculture is the one in charge?”

Giving background to this issue, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Elvis Morain said in 2019 a meeting was held with both boards who were concerned that there wasn’t a clear policy statement and the attempt for a merger must come from farmers.

He said a 6-member committee was formed but nothing happened as it was felt that the Ministry needed to take the lead. Another Cabinet appointed committee comprising 1 person representing the legal fraternity, 2 from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Chairman of the GCA and the GCNA and a consultant, was formed in May.

Following a Cabinet conclusion, policy direction was given, and the Ministry of Legal Affairs worked along with the Merger Oversight Committee and sent documents, including draft bill, to the committee, the PS said.

“Unfortunately, this draft bill found itself in the media. I can understand why farmers are upset because we didn’t get to that stage yet of engaging the farmers…the Cabinet has not made a final decision as to how the process is going to happen regarding the merger. We are still in that stage where we are preparing and I am sure there are questions,” PS Morain said.

The PS said it is “premature that the bill is in the newspaper” which “gives an ugly start to things.”

However, “it means that we have to continue the process, continue engaging, at the right time, with the farmers and other stakeholders.”

The National Democratic Congress ((NDC) in a news release said it is displeased with the high-handedness of Government, not wanting to do this in the interest of farmers but of a few who wants the sector liberalized.

This was strengthened by Adrian Thomas who is the party’s spokesperson on Agriculture and also a farmer. He said “NDC is not in favour of any merger that will not strengthen an organization or any merger that will belittle the farmers and take away their stronghold, [so] then we have to stand on the side of the farmers,” he said. There are close to 8,000 farmers of both associations (almost 4,000 nutmeg farmers and about 3,500 cocoa farmers)

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