By Caribbean News Global contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia – The manufacturing and construction sectors have both out-performed 2022 so far and that trend is expected to continue with most of September and an entire quarter left in the calendar year, says Export St Lucia, the national trade export promotion agency of the government of Saint Lucia.
The lack of transparency and public data that telegraphs the conclusions and projections being made by state agents is very troubling. There seems compliance with a very disturbing trend of selective secrecy. Successive governments and agents of the state, have gotten too comfortable making projections and wild statements without substantiating data.
Is this all about political and/or economic manipulation?
Noticeably, no data was provided to substantiate the claims on the backdrop of daily complaints from citizens on food shortages including many daily necessities. There are also daily unaddressed complaints about food and consumer durables which are rising exponentially compared with a year ago.
Last month, a news reporter attempted to question the minister for commerce, manufacturing, business development, cooperatives and consumer affairs Emma Hippolyte, on the matter of price gouging, espoused inexactness: “ … Kill it, Keele it, Keel it” … for the time being … You don’t want to go there.”
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Export Saint Lucia, Sunita Daniel, indicated:
“Due to the passage of Tropical Storm Bret and higher than normal temperatures, the ability to meet the demand in export markets has been badly affected because of low supply,” added “While this may be the case, the buyers that we have secured and the feedback from the ministry of agriculture on production levels augurs well for Saint Lucia and our farmers. The outlook for regional exports of bananas and other produce for the remainder of the year and 2024 is very positive.”
This state of affairs has proved particularly worse as expressed in the article, St Lucia agriculture gone Bananas.
“ The undetermined efforts of the governments of Saint Lucia continue as expressed previously ‘[had] no fixed position‘ on bananas. Thus, the government’s provisions of support are trivial gestures towards agriculture.”
In addition to these measures, Export St Lucia, writes:
“Following the decline of the market in the UK for Saint Lucia bananas, the Agency was tasked with finding a new home for our green gold. Research-led missions to neighbouring islands revealed that the region could absorb and even surpass the volume of bananas which would have otherwise been destined for the UK.”
“Islands such as Antigua, Barbados, St Kitts and Trinidad were identified for specific high demand for Saint Lucia’s bananas. These and other regional markets have also shown high demand for other “non-banana” produce, including plantain, coconuts, mangoes, dasheen, cucumbers and sea moss.”
Sea Moss market
“Saint Lucian sea moss continues to be a high performer as exports in 2023 are expected to surpass that of 2022 according to current statistics. New markets and continued growing demand has kept Saint Lucia sea moss top of mind, in high demand internationally. The government of Saint Lucia, through the agency, has injected technical and financial assistance to the sea-moss subsector. This assistance has allowed for the renovation of the Praslin Sea-moss Farmers Cooperative facility and provision of drying tables to more than 70 sea-moss farmers.”
The export potential in the region for other manufactured goods is also very high, CEO Daniel, continued:
“We also set out to market and find buyers for our manufactured goods. We have a very strong interest and there are quite a few deals currently in negotiation for beverages, health and wellness products, condiments and value-added sea-moss products. Saint Lucia products, both agriculture and manufactured, are in high demand regionally and internationally. We look forward to finalizing a number of new contracts before the end of the year,” commenting that Northern Caribbean have emerged as a very high target market while traditional partners like Dominica, Trinidad and Barbados remain particularly strong.
Domestic political deception
The many components of food price severity, agricultural policy, the non-introduction of new technology and methodologies in the agricultural sector and efforts to lower Saint Lucia’s food import bill remains a discourse of political opportunity.
In addition, the current distribution of fertilizer and other agricultural inputs by politicians, constituencies and associates is political trickery.
The multitude of abandoned farms and unproductive lands have not helped to improve the lives of farmers, and the country to assist in cooling high inflation, job creation and economic growth.
Unpacking the dissertation that “research has revealed that the Caribbean region can absorb and even surpass UK demand for Bananas” the authors are yet to make available the key factors behind the pronouncement.
Food inflation in St Lucia is too high
In consideration of a stable economy and to achieve greater prosperity for households and businesses, government and policymakers must focus on food inflation in Saint Lucia which is very high.
Restoring price stability should be a priority, returning to overall inflation between 2–3 percent target.
Economic growth, wage increases, labour costs and growth in demand for goods and services across the economy, are unparalleled in supply, for general nutrition and food security.
Government subsidy (technical and financial assistance) to banana farmers and initiatives to strengthen the country’s production, to support its export industry, and domestic market has proven inadequate. The atmosphere of neglect and abandonment of farms, and the business of agriculture must develop value-added to achieve optimal results.
In the absence of prioritization to changes in the agricultural sector, food production practices, cost of energy, domestic consumption, manufacturing and an import/export policy, food prices (Grocery) and consumer durables are likely to remain high, and in low supply.
Prolonged food insecurity, inflation, and the practice of deceptive political science are elements of a disruptive economy and a crisis-laden country.