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Cocoa farmers against liberalisation

The Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) has summoned an Emergency meeting for Thursday in Grenville, St. Andrew to discuss plans by the Keith Mitchell-led government to form a new company to run the commodity boards on the island with all the Directors to be appointed solely by the Minister of Agriculture.

A source close to the association told THE NEW TODAY that GCA Chairman, Pastor Christopher Williams is expected to inform cocoa farmers on the outcome of meetings held, involving a government appointed committee, to merge the cocoa body and the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA).

Two meetings have already been held by the Merger Committee, which is headed by the representative of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) local office in Grenada, Derek Charles and includes Acting Chief Magistrate Teddy St Louis as the Legal Representative and Inspector of Police, Rebecca Jones-Pinnock as the Secretary.

The body is completed by Pastor Williams, a former member of the 1983-84 Interim Grenada government of late Prime Minister Sir Nicholas Brathwaite and GCNA Chairman Leo Cato as the two representatives of the commodity organisations.

According to the source, both Cato and Williams did not offer much contribution at the two meetings of the Merger Committee on the grounds that they needed time to take back the proposals to their membership for consideration.

He said the two associations have serious reservations about the draft bill presented by government as it can turn out to be “problematic to farmers” in the way the plan is put together to try and dissolve both organisations and to pave the way for the liberalisation of the industries.

He stated that it is clear the Mitchell-led government wants to break the monopoly status of both GCNA and GCA to buy and sell the products from the farmers and is now intent on “pushing for open market and if you do that you will kill both associations”.

The source said that farmers are very suspicious of the move at this point in time and believe that it is being influenced by pressures from foreign investors to lay their hands on two government-owned estates at Mt Rueil and BelleVue through a lease arrangement with the regime.

He spoke of “whispers” in some quarters within the industry that the Mitchell-led administration has entered into an arrangement with these foreign investors for the two estates and for the dissolution of GCNA and GCA “to do what they want with their cocoa and nutmeg” in terms of selling the products on the international market.

“We are saying no liberalisation,” said the top GCA member.

According to the source, the cocoa farmers are also opposed to the manner in which government was trying to establish the new company with the Minister of Agriculture being given special powers to appoint the entire Board of Directors of between 7 to 9 members.

He said it is clear that the farmers will not have any input on the persons to be selected by the Minister to serve on the board.

“The farmers are saying to hell with it – let the present situation continue – a 9-member board – 6 elected by the farmers and 3 nominated by the government. We are sticking to our guns, we are not bending. The farmers are very militant and they are ready to march and to demonstrate,” he added.

The source disclosed that cocoa farmers have started to discuss the possibility of putting together a strong legal team to contest the matter in court against government.

“I am telling you that he (PM Mitchell) is not going to get away with that – that one (dissolution and liberalisation) is not going far at all,” he said.

The GCA official disclosed that he had received feedback from the series of area meetings held by nutmeg farmers in the past week leading up to their Annual General Meeting (AGM) early next month to put in place a new Board of Directors for the association.

He said it appears that the nutmeg farmers are “very vigilant” and will fight the proposals that were put forward by government on the issue and “are prepared to march” in the streets.

“The farmers have reached fever pitch,” he added.

THE NEW TODAY understands that the nutmeg farmers passed a resolution at their area meeting in Grenville this week calling for the heads of both GCNA and GCA to seek a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture to discuss the issue.

The cocoa farmers are also said to be fearful that they might lose their EC$500, 000.00 investment in a new restaurant facility near to its Diamond Chocolate factory plant in St. Mark.

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