Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) James Paul is fuming over a business entity’s importation of 900 cases of coconut water from Guyana, and he is appealing to Barbadians to boycott the imported drink.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY this afternoon, Paul lambasted the business, saying its action was “undermining the dwindling foreign exchange reserves as well as sabotaging employment within a viable sector.
“I understand that they [cases of coconut water] are here but they are not on the shelves as yet and I am hoping that they do not go on the shelves. I am appealing to Barbadians that any such coconut water they see on the shelves that they desist from buying it. Certainly for something that we should be doing here for ourselves, we should not allow any business to undermine persons from making a living from it. We should not be rewarding this reckless type of activity,” the livid BAS boss said.
While its economic contribution to the economy is not immediately clear, the coconut water business is a thriving one here, with vendors in open lorries and vans lining the country’s highways and roadways, never short of willing buyers.
In fact, the booming highway coconut water trade is so successful that it is taking a toll on the dried coconut business, leaving bakeries to consider importing dry nuts.
One farmer recently told Barbados TODAY that the demand for green coconuts was so high that the chances of finding a dry coconut on his one-acre plantation in St Philip “are about the same as finding gold”.
“I might get up a Friday and tag the mature bunches which I want to sell to the vendors that week and the ones I want to hold back for another couple of weeks so that they could get jelly. [However] the buyers would come Saturday morning and buy the bunches that I want to sell and by noon they are back begging me to sell the ones I was holding back,” Omar Pilgrim said last month.
The fact that the product is so readily available here makes the decision by the business to import even more puzzling to Paul.
The BAS head did not reveal the name of the business; therefore Barbados TODAY could neither independently verify his claim nor seek a comment from the business.
However, in his interview last month, Pilgrim had indicated that it was proving more cost effective to sell his coconuts to street vendors than to supermarkets, an indication that the supermarkets were likely finding it difficult to source the local water.
This notwithstanding, Paul sees the importation as a damning indictment on the private sector, which he accused of irresponsibly undermining the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves and throwing Barbadians on the bread line.
“This country is losing foreign exchange at a rapid rate as a result of the private sector behaviour. We have yet another private sector company who is not only seeking to undermine the foreign exchange reserves in this country but also threatens to put thousands of Barbadians who make a living from the sale of coconut water out of business. All those young men you see on the highway, the same person who is importing this coconut water will not seek to employ them,” he complained.
The Member of Parliament for St Michael West Central considered the action of the importer as a textbook example of why Government needed to implement stricter foreign exchange controls. He further argued that despite the pleadings of Government to the private sector to do their part to stem of the haemorrhaging of foreign exchange, it was clear that self-regulation did not work.
“These same people who are bringing in the coconut water are making thousands of dollars in profit, they are not taking the profit that they make and investing it back into the agricultural sector in order to help expand coconut water production in this country. Instead they are further undermining the country’s capacity to earn foreign exchange by importing things we are growing here.
“I really think that it is time that the Government must consider foreign exchange controls in respect of business that behave in this manner. We cannot continue to think that the current controls are working or that we can expect any responsible behaviour from members of the private sector in terms of helping this country to stem the foreign exchange loss,” Paul contended.