“Monday is the critical day for us”.
That’s the assessment of a leading commodity board member as he described tomorrow’s resumption of talks involving a government-appointed Merger Committee to bring together under one umbrella the Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) and the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA) for the liberalisation of the industry on the island.
The source said that the two members of the GCNA and GCA serving on the committee are expected to hear from their counterparts representing the Keith Mitchell-led government on the concerns raised about a week ago as regards the plans put forward to them to merge the commodity bodies and to open up the market to all players.
The government representatives on the board includes acting Chief Magistrate Teddy St. Louis, and Inspector of Police, Rebecca Jones-Pinnock.
Cocoa and nutmeg farmers are said to be offering strong resistance to a draft bill on the proposed merger and liberalisation of the industry in which the Minister of Agriculture, Yolande Bain-Horsford has been given sweeping powers to appoint all seven or nine member to serve on the board of the new company.
The source said the GCNA and GCA members on the Merger Committee described last week’s meeting of the group as “very cordial” but the government representatives were asked to take back to the powers-that-be the serious concerns of farmers on the way forward for the industry.
“We have raised the issues – they have taken note of the issues. I don’t know who they have to clear it with … but when we sit on Monday they will tell us what have been changed (in the draft bill)…,” he quoted the member as telling farmers at a meeting.
According to the source, the major issue which concerns farmers is the authority given to Minister Bain-Horsford over the new company, as well as the assets of the two associations.
He said the farmers hold the view that the powers placed in the female government minister “can derail everything” and it is well known that over the past 20 years, farmers have been clamouring about the assets of the associations.
He stated that nutmeg farmers have just ended a series of Area Meetings across the island in preparation for the July 9 Annual General Meeting (AGM) to elect a new Board of Directors and there was strong opposition to the government-proposed merger plans and the liberalisation of the industry.
He disclosed that the farmers have made “it very clear that they are opposed to it and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to defend it”.
The source said that he attended some of the meeting and got the sense that the farmers are not totally against the merger of GCNA and GCA but on condition that it was done properly.
“If it is done properly it can work. The liberalisation is the crux of the matter for the farmers,” he told THE NEW TODAY.
He went on: “When you liberalise, everybody does what he or she wants with the produce. As we speak now, you have to sell your produce to the nutmeg association and the cocoa association. If you do not have proper ownership we will not buy from you. You have to have title deed and ownership to the property from which you reap (to avoid praedial larceny).
“If people can do what they want – if you can sell to anybody would that next person have the same screening system in place to make sure that it is a bonafide farmer he is buying from? These are some of the issues that have to be carefully looked at when it comes to liberalising the sector.”
“So if you listen to the average farmer on the street, they don’t like how the merger is proposed and they are very scared of liberalisation,” he said.
Asked if the GCNA has a plan of its own in case government pushes forward with liberalisation, he said: “The GCNA is not up for liberalisation. That is one thing that will receive the stiffest resistance from both associations – forget it. The liberalisation of the sector means the end of the cocoa body and the nutmeg board.
The farmer expressed concern with what appears to be the rush by the Mitchell-led ruling New National Party (NNP) administration to take over the industries without proper consultation.
He said in the case of the merger itself, if it is to take place then one has to take into consideration “all the components surrounding the merger”.
“GCNA has different assets from GCA – what happens to these? How will the cocoa and nutmeg farmers fit in? What happens to the assets of the commodity bodies in terms of capitalisation? Would you set them up so that farmers could get shares? These are some things that farmers are really, really concerned about.”
According to the farmer, a merger can work and bring some benefits to the farmers but if it is handled properly and not the way in which the government was seemingly trying to bring it about.
”It can cause problems if it’s not done properly,” he added.
The farmer spoke of the need for intensive consultation across the board with the two commodity bodies, addressing the membership on the issue, explaining the details to them as well as “listening to their side of the story and their contribution as well”.
“Most of the farmers in Grenada have been around for four decades – they have seen things come and go and they have a story to tell as well. So we believe that the way ahead is to listen to both sides,” he said.