Just over a week ago, MNI Media received the images shown below from a Montserrat based farming enterprise that showed this local farmers' harvest of cabbages from their land.
When we made further enquiries, why these images were shared with MNI, we were made to understand that farmers on Montserrat receive regular support from only some local businesses in buying produce from them, but some local supermarkets - even some where a politician contesting the 2019 elections is known to be affiliated with - they have often declined to purchase the local produce.
Accordingly, we have been made to understand that local produce such as onions and cabbages, as shown here, are often not purchased by this local supermarket enterprise with political affiliations.
From what we were further made to understand, the farmer's produce have been purchased by other local supermarkets to include Victor's, Aravin's, Angelo's, Ashok's, Edith's and also from Clement Cassell's establishment in Salem, just to name a few.
However, when they contacted the local supermarket where an elected Member is alleged to be affiliated with, this local supermarket stated; "they do not want any."
MNI proceeded to contact the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade, Lands, Housing and the Environment (MATLHE) to gather some information as to this matter of importation of onions and cabbages, and other produce, over that of buying local, and what they were doing to protect local farmers.
The following information was shared with MNI where the Ministry informed us that:
"The 2018/19 Crop Production cycle saw an increase in the production of lettuce, carrots and cabbages. The importation of these commodities were also placed under restriction. The Ministry is closely monitoring the local market as it looks at import trends to forecast likely shortfall and control the importation of these restricted goods."
The Ministry also stated that: "Importers are invited to join the Ministry of Agriculture in its drive to increase the local production and supply of fresh vegetables - Support local! Buy local!"
Furthermore it was addressed to MNI that the analysis of the trends in the importation of cabbages and onions "suggests that over 50% of local demand was met by local production. Using the 2017 and 2018 Import Data for onions during the months of March, April and May, we observe that on average 24,500lbs of onions were imported from countries outside of CARICOM. For the same period in 2019, we were able to reduce imports to 10,930lbs. Our aim is to further reduce the importation of onions in 2019/20."
On the matter of those businesses who prefer importation over local produce, the Ministry informed MNI that they would like to remind importers of the requirements of Section 10 of the External Trade Act and Regulation 5 of the Restriction Order - it is an offence to import restricted items prior to applying for, and obtaining an import licence from the Ministry with responsibility for Trade.
The Ministry further warns that to import goods under restriction without a license is an offence under the External Trade Act and also under section 33 of the Customs (Control and Management) Act (Cap. 17.04). To import cabbages or onions or lettuce or sweet peppers or any item under restriction without a licence means that the goods were improperly imported. Action will be taken to address non-compliance with these rules and regulations.
With regards to the issue of onions importation and the support for the local market, MNI was told that the Ministry led by Hon David Osborne (MNI wishes him a speedy recovery) has successfully restarted Local Onion Production where Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Eulyn Silcott-Greaves, working in collaboration with the technical staff of the Department of Agriculture: Director Melissa O'Garro and her team have seen to it that
"the 2018/19 Local Onion Production Project" saw the cultivation of over 50,000lbs of onions on Montserrat – a first since volcanic eruptions in 1995 which destroyed the main farming belts of Lees, Gages, Brodericks, Trants, Farrells, Hermitage, Groves and Richmond Estates. The 2018/19 Pilot Phase of the project started with 3 farmers cultivating approximately 2.5 acres of land. One farmer has so far harvested and sold some 30,000 pounds of onions on the local market."
We were further informed that there is an anticipation that local farmers will become involved in this project, and the 2019/20 yields will see quantities large enough to meet the local supply, for an extended period. As more farmers enlist and engage in the production of selected crops such as onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, cabbages and carrots, the impact of our import substitution policy will be made manifest and agriculture's contribution to GDP will be more evident."
As a result of the success of this pilot phase, the Ministry stated that it is getting ready to launch it's 2019/20 Local Onion Production Project and that they are desirous of expanding this initiative to include other farmers, as they prepare for the upcoming planting season.
They have asked that Farmers interested in cultivating these selected crops, namely: Onions, Carrots, Sweet Peppers, and Tomatoes to contact the Department of Agriculture on or before Friday 12 July, 2019.
What about Fresh Leafy Vegetables?
We were informed that Montserrat continues to make strides in the supply of green leafy vegetables.
Montserrat is also well on its way towards self-sufficiency in the production of lettuce.
The Ministry stated that they will work with their research development partner, CARDI, to identify varieties that are comparable, in texture and quality, to the imported Romaine and Iceberg Lettuce varieties, as they progress their import substitution strategy.
During the past months, the Department of Agriculture stated that they have worked closely with the Trade and Quality Infrastructure Division to enforce the External Trade (Import Restriction) Order 1995 (SR&O No. 81 of 1995). The importation of onions, lettuce, cabbages and carrots originating from outside of the CARICOM Region was prohibited when there was an adequate local supply.
They have also stated that they remain committed to achieving the targets set in the Agricultural Strategy and Marketing Plan for Montserrat (2016-2021) and look forward to working with the farming and business community to "reduce Montserrat's dependence on imported fresh foods" and "explore/exploit niche market opportunities for local food products" while at the same time "promote the consumption of fresh foods as a contributor to wellness". ‚Äã
And finally, a mention was made towards those local farmers and vendors who have worked with the Ministry to achieve these notable milestones. They are inviting others to come on board and register their interest also.