The Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) is calling for an investigation to determine if cabbage imported for the School Meals Department, ended up providing competition for domestic farmers on the open market.
Chief Executive Officer, James Paul, made the call today in response to approaches from farmers who, he said, had raised concerns with him recently. He pointed out that the allegations in question had not been substantiated.
“We will be asking the Ministry [of Agriculture] to look at this issue. Right now, we have a situation where farmers are planting considerable amounts of cabbage and the problem is that they cannot get them marketed. At the same time, we have a situation where we are observing that there are considerable quantities of imported cabbage on the market,” said Paul.
Paul said the BAS would be keeping a closer eye on entities awarded contracts to supply produce to the School Meals Department to ensure that if they imported the supplies ended up where they were supposed to.
He said when imported produce ended up on the open market, there were implications for jobs in the local agriculture sector, foreign exchange outflows and government revenue.
“That in itself sounds alarm bells for the industry,” said Paul, adding that persons awarded School Meals contracts should first approach the BAS or local farmers to see if they can meet the demand instead of resorting to foreign suppliers.
“… that, to my mind, is something we need not tolerate in this industry and in Barbados at this time,” said Paul.
The BAS CEO said local farmers had supplied the School Meals Department with various produce over the years and would be seeking to increase the range of commodities in upcoming tendering processes.
Acknowledging that the BAS was not the only organization that deals with farming, Paul also said he was hoping contracts to supply produce would be awarded to farmers directly or farming organizations after proper background checks were carried out.
He said government was doing what it could to have local farmers supply the School Meals Department, but he accused private sector entities which secured contracts of “frustrating” the national policy, which encourages suppliers to first seek local produce before they import.
Adding that the situation did not only apply to cabbage and the School Meals Department, Paul said a number of local fruit and vegetable growers were hurting “as a result of indiscriminate importation”.
“This year, we will certainly be watching closely to see what is happening with anybody who has been awarded a School Meals contract to try and ensure that their sourcing is being done locally,” warned Paul.
“The other thing too is that the prices at which they tender at are not realistic,” he argued.
“I am appealing too that in terms of considering tenders that we do not go and accept a tender only based on price but look at the capacity of the individual to supply the commodity in question.”