Access to markets should be a human right for local farmers, says farmer Arthur Smith.
He has again found himself in a situation where he has an abundance of produce and no market to get them off. This time it is carrots.
“It must be a human right, ’cause everything is a human right nowadays. Especially in a country that like ours is so depleted of foreign exchange, you should be happy when farmers produce. And farmers should never have this challenge in marketing this stuff,” he argued.
The St Lucy farmer is currently harvesting an acre and a half of carrots and has another two acres that will be ready to be pulled in just over a month, but he said the market is currently flooded with imported ones.
Smith is now forced to sell at $1 less than the market price, and he says there is little hope of getting them off to hawkers.
“Years ago hawkers would come and buy, so you wouldn’t have a problem. But now even the hawkers using imported carrots . . . . So we are finding it difficult to sell local carrots, but the Government telling us plant onions and [other things].
“Now taxes gone up, everything gone up, but if all the different costs around you have gone up, and then you have no access to market, it is very difficult. And Government needs to do something about it,” he argued.
Smith said the alternative was to “hold up” the carrots to the world via the media.
“Government has to decide whether they are going to allow the imports to kill off the production here. And then tell farmers they want them to produce again,” he said.
Smith cited the case of Bermuda, where merchants were allowed to import on condition that they bought all the local produce. He said Government should take a similar stance here.
The manager of Barrows Farm said farmers had been competing with imported produce for a while, but it was getting a lot worse.
Smith repeatedly sidestepped the question of whether he had cut back on the volume he planted in view of the downward trend.
“I stagger my planting only to suit demand. I just don’t plant willy-nilly. Right now the price of carrots is up; I plant to suit when the price is good. This is the tourism season, so there is a demand for all commodities,” he said.
Smith said he did not know what deal the supermarkets got, but most of them went for the imported commodity.
Of those who bought local, he said it was only in small quantities.
The veteran farmer said vegetables had fallen off by about 75 per cent in the last 20 years or so, and that the food import bill had risen by a similar amount.
“It’s not like you planting because you couldn’t get it sell. There is room to sell it, but the things are being imported,” he stated.
He said farmers in Barbados had to produce in order to reduce the import bill and that he did not see a need for farmers to reduce. He said the situation could be improved if people, the Minister of Agriculture included, would go around to the various farms to see what was going on.
Smith said one way of getting the produce sold was to trust a middle man, but the downside was that farmers were not always paid when the sale was made.