An outpouring of indignance erupted when it became apparent that many of the “poor farmers” who flocked to the Agricultural Input Warehouse early last week would not be provided with any of the promised fertilizer that should have been distributed.
At least one video circulating on social media depicts a very vocal, unnamed fisherman who, apparently, also farms. He complained in part, about the poor communications and logistics that accompanied this latest embodiment of the government’s agricultural stimulus response.
“If you have 4000 sack ah manure, is just 10 farmers deh here? Is only the big farmers and them supposed to get – so you could come and get 100 and this one could get 50 and this one get 200 … so what happen to the poor farmers and them? What happen to the poor farmers and them?!
“We is who – we is fxxking who – right now, yo understand? Is who keeping up – is the poor farmers and them who keeping up Saint Vincent fxxking gwine! Yo feel de big farmers and them doing something? And when they buy de manure and dem they selling over de fxxking manure and dem! They selling dem over! That is what they doing!” the man voiced. Another potential purchase was lost, last Monday August 17 when a different buyer attempted to procure at least 2 sacks of the manure for his/her family’s farm.
In an exclusive conversation with Asbert News Network, s/he anonymously confirmed that the logistics on that day were poorly conceptualized and managed. The source noted that s/he was on the scene at the AIW from about 6 a.m. that day. By midday s/he gave up his/her spot in the line and left in frustration since, “the line just wasn’t moving, the gates were shut; there was a crowd of people up ahead so there was all these questions about where the line was but actually the line had gone around the back of the building – at some point it just got real chaotic.”
Our source solicited another potential buyer’s help to purchase his/her 2 sacks. Several days later and still without the fertilizer, s/he reported, “together we were just buying 5 sacks. That’s all we wanted because we are small farmers. And that was the thing because you couldn’t even get 5 sacks fo yo likko eddoe and dasheen and yo likko sweet pepper an’ ting dem. If it’s a programme to help poor people it should help poor people. You should determine who is a poor person in terms of farmers and let the people them who really need the help get the strength.”
Agricultural consultant and one-time manager of the Fresh Produce Division at the now defunct St. Vincent Marketing Corporation, Clive ‘Bish-I’ Bishop told ANN, “the government got 8000 sacks of fertilizers free from Morocco. SVG has about 9000 registered farmers. It takes on average 8 to 20 sacks of fertilizer to grow a good crop, depending on the crop.
“If even 4000 farmers are actively farming then they would only receive 2 sacks of fertilizer each. The fertilizer was sold at half price, but people who are not farmers bought up most of it and resold it to the real farmers for more money.”
When pressed as to the veracity of his allegation, Bish-I responded, “I got it directly from some people in Agriculture both farmers and officers.” He was, however, disinclined to share their identities.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar rubbished Bishop’s assertion even as he outlined his understanding of what led to the shortage and his Ministry’s response to the situation.
“A lot of persons are not having the appreciation for a very important factor. Which is: because of the return of the sailors, over 1000 persons, a lot of them from rural communities who are from agricultural families have now gone back to agriculture whilst they are home, here; that a lot of the persons who did work in the hotels from the rural areas, their parents have lands and they were doing part time farming so they have gone back into full time farming.”
MP Caesar also enumerated the ongoing tractor services, 100 thousand seeds and seedlings distributed to date, the ‘Love Box Initiative’ and increased demand in agricultural exports as other drivers that increased participation in the sector.
When taken as a whole, Caesar posited, it is little wonder the fertilizers sold out much faster than the normal rate of 2 months.
“Some persons may say, ‘well if you know that then you should just bring in ten times the shipment of fertilizer,’ but we are building it as we go along…. We brought in the normal quantity of fertilizer – about 8000 sacks. This would normally last about 2 months; it lasted 24 hours.
“Previously a similar thing took place when [the shipment] lasted for about 2 days – it’s supposed to last 8 weeks it lasted about 2 days. It therefore shows us… it’s difficult for the Statistical Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture to keep up with the exponential increase in production because when extension officers go out and they bring back the information because the thing is a revolution you can’t calculate the thing as quickly as you should.”
An end of August shipment with the same quantity is expected to be distributed with some changes to the protocols previously engaged, MP Caesar updated.
“I’m advising persons to purchase their fertilizer from the Input Warehouse or if they are repurchasing it, do not repurchase it at any significantly inflated price. Remember there are always persons in the rural communities who have always been selling fertilizer and they may buy it at half-price and say at least for their transportation price they have to cover that – so it won’t be for the exact price.
We launched yesterday (Monday August 24) the COVID-19 Fertilizer Sales Protocol. Because there is such a demand for fertilizer there is mass gathering and we can’t afford mass gathering in a period of COVID-19. So if you go to the Input Warehouse to buy fertilizer today they will tell you that the NPK … will be coming in to SVG on August 30 but you can make your payment now; instead of everybody rushing to pay when the fertilizer comes just keep your receipt.
“When the fertilizer comes to the country we know that you live in New Grounds we’ll tell you to go to Lauders and pick up your fertilizer. And we’ll call and tell you when to go to Lauders because we don’t need 500 people descending on Lauders,” Caesar said.
He also announced that the transportation costs from Kingstown to the respective distribution depots would be absorbed by the government. According to the Agriculture Minister there is no evidence to support the allegations of widespread fertilizer bulk buy-outs by a very liquid few, though he reported further that registered farmers would now only be allowed to buy 20 sacks of fertilizers per farmers ID card.
Additionally all fertilizers supplied by the AIW have been subsidized and are currently being offered at 50 percent discount to qualifying farmers.