Two videos showing large quantities of spoilt local farm produce were sent to Asbert News Network earlier this week. In one 0.38 seconds clip, an accompanying voiceover narrated the scene as being evidence of “sack loads” of wastage generated by the governing Unity Labour Party’s Love Box initiative.
The initiative was introduced by Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar as part of his government’s response to the economic fallout that is still impacting SVG due, largely, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is meant to stimulate the local agricultural industry as the government is supposed to be purchasing famers’ harvests nationwide. Once bought the assortment of fruits, vegetables and ground provisions are carted to centralized sorting depots where they are packaged in boxes and later distributed to the community’s most needy.
Alas the intention and implementation of this concept seems to have been at variance for some time now, according to North Leeward MP Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews. He was at the time responding to questions (while appearing on ANN and ITFX Digital Solution’s ‘On The Spot’ Facebook live talk show) about one of the videos which showed an unknown quantity of breadfruit, oranges, lengths of cane and avocados thrown out behind the Rose Bank community centre, supposedly.
“This has been happening a long time, in terms of the wastage. I did my own investigation to find out why are there so many wastage [sic] at this particular collecting and packaging centre in Rose Bank. .. I understand that some of the produce that was spoilt before was discarded so this has to be a new batch…
“From my investigations two reasons result in that wastage that you are showing on your screen. One: the politicization of this Love Box where initially they were given only to the supporters of the Unity Labour Party. And then later on when things start to get plenty and they buying more they would give a few to the New Democratic Party supporters…. I am from Petit Bordel and I witnessed with my own eyes, what I’m saying to you happening, where persons are saying ‘you can’t get a Love Box because you are not a supporter of the Unity Labour Party.’
“I said two reasons: One – they only give to certain people and because there was so much so everybody didn’t get and the rest was left to spoil because they didn’t give it to NDP supporters. Another reason: in the name of politics some of the produce that they buy was of a sub-standard nature and as a result they were easy to spoil,” the NDP incumbent MP disclosed.
Matthews, a former athlete and educator further alleged that “some of the supporters make noise – ‘yo have to buy my ting!’- whatever and they buy them and they spoil within a few days.”
The 2 term MP emphasized that he gave the concept his full support though the eventual rollout of the food supply project was flawed.
“The intention of the programme I have no problem with but the implementation of the programme is where the problems are where people are using politics to determine who gets. They are also buying from some famers who selling goods that are not up to standard and as a result some of the stuff spoil and they have to dump them. In the end monies have to come from somewhere to pay for them so that’s wastage.”
Matthews further proposed that the program should have allowed for individual households to purchase the food they need since the current logistics were ineffective against ensuring that suppliers were not in turn given the same produce that they sold to the Love Box programme.
“In North Leeward, for example, a farmer told me he said, ‘Mr. Matthews I sold some zabouka (avocados) and I got back some of my zabouka along with some other stuff in a Love Box.’ So you see wah going on deh? So you see? Totally disorganized….
“A proper assessment wasn’t done to determine the needs of the people who they send the boxes to or the particular community. If it was properly organized it might mean a different or better distribution of the boxes.”
ANN is yet to reach out to Agriculture Minister Caesar for his take on the development.