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Cocoa farmers meet Thursday to discuss merger and liberalisation

Cocoa farmers in Grenada are meeting today in their first area meeting to discuss a plan being advanced by the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to dissolve the cocoa and nutmeg commodity boards and to group them into a new company to pave the way for the liberalisation of the industry.

Sources told THE NEW TODAY that GCA Chairman, Pastor Christopher Williams, will inform the farmers at the meeting to be held at the Deluxe Cinema in Grenville on the status of talks between the 2-member commodity board delegation and a three-member panel representing the government.

A source close to the talks said that the position of the cocoa farmers is critical in going forward as nutmeg farmers in recent Area meetings leading up to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of nutmeg farmers have rejected the liberalisation aspect of the plan.

“It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction we get from the cocoa farmers. I think that this is where a lot of the discussions and the debate will take place with the farmers in the communities,” he said.

According to the source, the decisions taken by both group of farmers “will in some great measure influence the decision that government will take in the end”.

“We as associations will have to continue to discuss, inform our membership, our constituents, consult with them on what is going on,” he added.

This, he said is necessary to do in this period “so that government realises that John Public knows the issues, they now know the positions of the associations, so when the government takes its own position they will see to what extent government is going against the grain”.

The source pointed out that it is necessary for both GCNA and GCA to engage in a dialogue with its membership because “if you don’t do the sensitisation now you could be caught off-guard”.

“There is something called people’s power and if you have sufficient people well informed on the matter, government will find it a very, very difficult thing to get people to accept some of their actions.

Addressing the nation Sunday night, Prime Minister Mitchell told Grenadians that government will be moving “speedily but with precision to address the governance and management structure of the commodity boards, which successive consultancies have shown to be inadequate and archaic”.

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Dr. Mitchell said that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has “provided a crucial opportunity to modernise the operation of our commodity boards, to strengthen the institutional capacity and viability of the governance structure, liberalise the market and improve the global competitiveness of our traditional crops”.

“We expect the merger of the associations and liberalisation of the sector to lead to better prices for cocoa and nutmeg farmers while also allowing them a chance of real ownership and shareholding in the commodity board,” he added.

The source is confident that the vast majority of farmers on the island are in support of the positions being adopted by both GCNA and GCA on the plan as outlined against the merger and liberalisation of the industry.

“You will always have a very small percentage of people who for whatever reason – political or otherwise – who will want to justify government’s action. No matter what you do, you will find from your membership a very small percentage – less than 10%”.

“…The majority of farmers are where we are and in terms of our thought process and the way forward – they are with us. In fact, they are more militant than even the board itself. Farmers are ready to resist anything that won’t work in their own best interest”.

The source who attended several of the GCNA area meetings where the controversial issue dominated a great deal of the discussions, said it was clear to him that “the farmers are up and ready”.

THE NEW TODAY understands that GCNA Chairman Leo Cato is a member of GCA and also sits on its governing board.

He warned that a showdown is in the making between cocoa and nutmeg farmers if the Mitchell-led government continues to push ahead with its plans to liberalise the industry.

“If government is hell bent on some of the things that the PM said then there will definitely be a showdown between farmers and the government,” he said.

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