The Grenada Revolution of 1979 to 1983 was transformative for the social and economic advancement of Grenada.
The overthrown Eric Gairy regime had focused on taking private enterprises and making them into public entities under the control of government. This included nutmeg and cocoa estates and hotels.
When Maurice Bishop took over leadership on March 13, 1979, his vision was nationalistic and on organising agrarian reform to benefit the thousands of agricultural workers and peasant farmers. Therefore, the People’s Revolutionary Government focused on agricultural reform as a means of striving towards self-sustenance and increasing export and trade of local agricultural products.
Under agriculture reform, the Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB) had an expanded mandate aimed at exporting agricultural produce to regional and international markets.
First, it is imperative to provide some background context into the MNIB. The MNIB was started in 1973. The name at the time was the National Importing Board (NIB). The NIB was established to engage in the trading of agricultural products, not already marketed under any other statutory body.
The MNIB is responsible to trade “any fruit, vegetable, other praedial production, any cultivated root or plant used or capable of being used, whether in its natural state or otherwise, for the food of man or beast, for medicines, distilling, dyeing, or for the manufacture of clothing, and any livestock, poultry, fish and any other marketable commodity”.
The 1973 act established MNIB as the principal selling body for these products on the domestic or local market. In addition, the NIB was expected to be the export body of agricultural produce from Grenada into regional and international market.
The focus of the MNIB would be on non-traditional produce not already covered by the Grenada Cocoa Association, Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association, and the Grenada Farms Cooperative (no longer in existence). This is the main reason why the MNIB has never been involved in the export of nutmeg or cocoa.
Surplus agricultural produce was to be exported aimed at increasing the export earnings from the sale of Grenadian agricultural produce. Under this objective, the MNIB is to develop a guaranteed market for farmers’ produce at stable prices, therefore ensuring a reliable income for farmers and bringing financial stability to farming.
Other duties given by the 1973 act included establishing and operating depots for the purchase, delivery, grading and sale of produce, establishing and operating storage facilities, and trading in farm inputs.
In 1979, the mandate of the NIB was expanded, and the name changed to the MNIB under an amendment to Act 40 of 1973 which had established the entity. The new mandate included the import and distribution of specific items: sugar (brown and white sugar), rice, and powdered whole milk. This gave the MNIB a monopoly on the importation of basic food items that are included in the food basket of every Grenadian family.
The MNIB was to ensure the equitable distribution and pricing of these bulk commodities to ensure constant availability and stable prices. In addition, through bulk importation, foreign exchange cost savings were to be generated.
Second, during the revolutionary period, the MNIB was also given the responsibility to be the sole provider of agricultural equipment and fertiliser for farmers in Grenada. However, this brought the MNIB into direct competition with private enterprises that were selling fertiliser and equipment to farmers. Thus, this responsibility did not last, and was eventually removed.
The MNIB fell under the Ministry of Finance, Trade and Planning which was the ministry held by Bernard Coard, the Deputy Prime Minister under the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).
Records indicate that MNIB was a failed initiative from the onset. Records of 1981 to 1983 indicate that the MNIB was only able to purchase less than 600 tons of fresh produce from farmers, and the majority were resold to only the domestic market.
A financial analysis of MNIB by a World bank team in 1983 indicated that in the period 1979 to 1982, sales were high, inventories on hand was higher, and that accumulation of inventories was a serious problem. In the years of the revolution, this problem was further exacerbated by free gifts received from governments to the Maurice Bishop government. These free gifts were stored in the storage facilities held by MNIB and included wine, apricot and orange preserves, and clothing supplies.
Over the years, the MNIB has maintained its monopoly on the importation of sugar. However, it has been unable on numerous occasions to be able to meet the internal demand for brown sugar by the population, leaving many Grenadians frustrated and disappointed in MNIB’s performance.
The public has been unable to get a steady and reliable supply of sugar, especially brown sugar to meet the needs of homes and businesses dependent on this commodity.
Furthermore, MNIB has been plagued with several controversies which ultimately led to the Integrity Commission completing a thorough investigation of the affairs of the MNIB. Past heads of MNIB have failed to bring financial and organisational stability to the statutory body, and farmers have continued to openly express the failure of the Board of Directors to heed their concerns.
One such concern is the undercutting of price per pound for agricultural produce, leaving farmers with next to nothing for their hard work and labour in farming.
Most disgracefully, the MNIB has not served in its function to provide export markets for the abundance of agricultural produce of local farmers. MNIB has not been able to source regional and international markets for agricultural produce such as soursop which has high market value and is in demand as a cancer fighting remedy.
In some early years, MNIB received limited success in exporting mangoes, plantain, dasheen and green bananas to the UK market, however marketing distribution to these markets were not long lasting.
Generally, thousands of pounds of agricultural produce have spoilt because of the inability of MNIB to source ready markets for export of such produce. Instead, the MNIB has become a competitor to local supermarkets by selling agricultural produce directly to the public at lower prices.
This was not the intended purpose of MNIB and is evident of the misdirection and inadequacy of MNIB to fulfil its original mandate of 1973. It is fair to say that the dream of the revolution to have an export trading body in the form of MNIB to be a key part in the agricultural sector has not been realised with the MNIB.
There is still a need for the complete transformation of MNIB to be able to be seen as a revolutionary dream that has come into reality..
Christell Simeon is Business Owner – Island Learning Grenada