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Pork imports surge ahead of World Cup

by Sheria Brathwaite
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Despite protests from pig farmers, a surge in pork imports is expected as the island prepares to host the T20 World Cup in June, the pork producers’ leader has said.

According to Henderson Williams, president of the Barbados Pig Farmers’ Association, domestic pork production has declined by seven per cent or more in recent months. While expressing sympathy with farmers, he acknowledged that domestic pork supply is insufficient to meet the expected demand from the thousands of visitors expected for the global cricket tournament.

“Production is down. We have seen a reduction in terms of our local production and, obviously, if we are not producing as much, it justifies the need to import,” Williams told Barbados TODAY.

It is projected that more than 20 000 people will visit Barbados for eight matches and the final of the International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup next month. With local milk production at a low, the island’s sole milk processor Pine Hill Dairy was also granted permission to import milk to avert any shortages with the anticipated increased demand.

Farmers have complained that imports now make up 20 to 25 per cent of the local pork market, with a 20 per cent drop in import duties opening the floodgates for cheaper imported pork. Williams said high-level discussions are ongoing with the government to find ways to support farmers and prevent the industry from collapsing.

“We have to be considerate that there are other players in the environment and you can’t do things that would push people whose livelihood depends on [this industry] out of business,” Williams said. “We understand that there is private enterprise, people are looking at their own profit margins and looking at ways to become more efficient. However, there is a responsible way of doing it.

“We are not against people running their business how they see fit, but it cannot be detrimental to the small farmers in this country. That’s the position that we share along with the Minister of Agriculture.”

The government has announced a $2 million loan programme for farmers, in collaboration with the Barbados Agricultural Society. Williams said the programme, along with increased production incentives, could help lay the foundation for the pork industry’s recovery.

He said the loan funds would be made available to eligible farmers as early next month, with up to $50 000 in loans allowed per applicant.

But the industry faces other challenges beyond just import competition. Williams noted that farmers often lack sufficient data on pork production and availability, making it difficult for officials to make informed decisions about import needs.

“We need more rigorous data collection that speaks to the availability of pork. One of the challenges is that oftentimes there is not enough data to make informed decisions,” Williams said. “This is something that we (the pig farmers association) would put energy into – ensuring that our members understand the importance of it. If the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs can do projections that we have adequate quantities of pork and that we are self-sufficient, permits would not be granted.”

Going forward, Williams suggested farmers communicate their production outlook more consistently to help the government better project domestic pork supply. He said this could potentially limit the need for future import approvals if local production can meet demand.

Last year, Barbados imported around two million kilogrammes of pork, primarily from Suriname. With high demand for specialty cuts like spare ribs, Williams said Barbadian farmers need to explore expanding their product offerings beyond just whole carcasses.

 

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