Local farmers Friday suggested that the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which is to be increased from two to ten per cent effective July 1, could wind up being a blessing in disguise.
The measure was among a controversial $542 million austerity package announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler on May 30 with a view to eclipsing a $537.6 million deficit.
However, while local manufacturers and other interests have been crying foul over the 500 per cent NSRL increase, some farmers say it may actually end up being a saving grace for the local agriculture sector, which has been exempted from paying the tax that is to be levied on imports.
“The good thing about it is that all imported vegetables are going to go up, so then the local vegetables stand a better chance of selling, because with the low foreign reserves [which stood at less than $600 million or 10.3 weeks of import cover at the end of last year] hopefully Government will not be issuing import licences for things that we can grow locally,” said one farmer of 32 years, who did not want to be identified.
He further pointed out that with the rainy season commencing at the beginning of June, many farmers were expecting increased production, which he said was likely to fare better on the market once the NSRL takes effect next month.
“When the farmers here have the produce, the imported produce comes in and our local stuff sits down there and rots because the imported stuff is gotten rid of faster,” the St George farmer explained, adding that the two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions, which also takes effect on July 1, was more likely to affect the local agricultural sector since “everything that is used in agriculture in Barbados comes from overseas”.
Another St George farmer suggested that Barbadians may be forced to change their spending and eating habits.
“The imposition of the tax [NSRL] is expected to have an impact of the cost of living and I expect Bajans to look for cheaper options. So instead of buying pasta and these fancy fruit, they are going to eat more breadfruit, sweet potato, yams and eddoes,” the farmer said.
However, Egbert Maloney, a vegetable farmer for over 50 years, said he was adopting a “wait and see” approach.
“I think we’re going to have to wait and see. We don’t know what price the people will put on the agricultural inputs and then we don’t know how the imports will go towards our prices here, so it is a wait and see situation,” the Chancery Lane, Christ Church farmer said.
“The importers, they buy cheap and sell dear so we don’t know if this is the time that we will be in a better position . . . . It is a real wait and see situation,” he stressed.