The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com. 

In the Tuesday, January 19, 2016 edition of the Searchlight newspaper, Sabota Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, is said to have made a request in a press conference the day before, “…to persons in the diaspora, especially in North America, who are interested in trading in agricultural produce from St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to come forward” (Agriculture Minister makes call to diaspora, p. 2).

Caesar directly linked this call to “… the coming on stream of Argyle International Airport (AIA)”, arguing that this will mean “… trade between this country and North America is set to take off and the time is right for interested persons who wish to do business with local farmers to show interest.”

The Minister also said, “But it is not going to happen by wishful thinking or by us simply sitting back and not being active in creating a cadre of persons who will be ready and willing to take up this opportunity to export produce utilizing the Argyle International Airport…. We are making a call for persons in the diaspora, North America. Persons who are willing to be traders between SVG and North America to express interest … We want persons in the diaspora to come forward now that we have a comparative advantage in our trade. We want people to come forward and discuss how we can put in place the best framework.”

Caesar also added that, “… we are going to see a positive evolution
in the exportation of fish, with the opening of the AIA … [W]e want persons to be involved in the fish trade.”

The Minister has said much of this before.

Now he has tossed in two more questionable points: (1) what “comparative advantage” do we have “in our trade” when we would have to complete with low cost mega-agricultural producers from Latin America, West Africa, and South Asia and (2) which “interested persons” does he expect to attract who would be willing to bear the high costs and risks of purchasing, transporting (via expensive refrigerated cargo planes), and wholesaling our farm and fish products overseas when we can’t even attract “interested persons” from away to invest in our tourism industry, the proposed backbone of AIA?

Is Caesar actually oblivious to the fact that many types of ground provisions sold in London, New York, and Toronto supermarkets brought by ship from extra-Caribbean tropical destinations are far cheaper than their counterparts sold in our very own Kingstown Market? The same holds true for all manner of fish items.

Some tropical root crops.
Some tropical root crops.

What Caesar always fails to acknowledge is that all over the world farming and fishing products have forever been successfully and economically transported by ship. In an earlier era before refrigeration, the shipment of large quantities of certain raw agricultural products over long distances was limited. Not so for aquatic resources which were packed in ice, canned in bottles, pickled in brine, or smoked either at their source or on the ships themselves.

The introduction of ship refrigeration in the latter part of the 19th century revolutionized this transit of fish, meat, fruit and vegetables:

“The Dunedin (1876–82) was the first ship to successfully transport a full cargo of refrigerated meat from New Zealand to England. In this capacity, it provided the impetus to develop the capacity of New Zealand as a major provider of agricultural exports, notwithstanding its remoteness from most markets”.

This revolution is far from over as more and more chilled, frozen, salted, canned, and smoked produce is sent by boat all across the globe year after year.

By comparison, transporting food and nearly all other produce by cargo aircraft is simply too expensive which is also why most food and manufactured items are moved by train and truck in continental areas lacking nearby water access.

Bananas shipped by boat
Bananas shipped by boat

As I have already argued, “The Minister [of Agriculture] knows full well that: the tonnes of fish caught by Japanese trawlers in our waters are shipped thousands of miles home to Japan by refrigerated ships (as in commercial fisheries all over the world); no other foreign interests are going to invest in our local fishery when they can continue to steal from our waters at will; we can barely satisfy our domestic needs, especially for large species, due to overfishing; transporting most sea products by air is prohibitively expensive; fish shipped by air or boat from SVG to North America or Europe could never compete with cheaper fish shipped there from Asia and Africa; and we don’t have enough live crustaceans (lobsters, crayfish, conchs, etc.) left in our waters or rivers to export anywhere outside the country”

About the only aircraft transporting tropical produce — from sea and land — are those carrying the overpriced and often overripe or spoiled goods found in small ethnic grocery stores located far from the seven seas some of whose foodstuff is forwarded to them by plane after it has reached a large maritime transshipment point by boat.

If shipping agricultural produce by air is bound to enhance overseas sales, as the Minister claims, why have the millions of tonnes of root crops and other farm items sent to Trinidad — our main regional export market — for decades all been transported by boat?

Planes are great for moving people in a hurry as well as for sending produce that needs to be shipped before it spoils (like flowers and certain live medical supplies). For the rest, as Minister Caesar surely knows, boats, trains, and trucks will long remain the cheapest way to send all manner of goods over great distances.

***

This is the 23rd in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport.

My other AIA pieces may be found at:

  1. Get ready for a November election!
  2. Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
  3. Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
  4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
  5. Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l Airport
  6. The Dark Side of Tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
  7. Why Argyle Won’t Fly: Lessons from Dominica
  8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
  9. Airport Envy Vincy-Style
  10. Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
  11. Airport without a cause
  12. The unnatural place for an international airport
  13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
  14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
  15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincy-Style
  16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
  17. Is Argyle Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us?’
  18. Has the cat got your tongue, Prime Minister?
  19. More proof that Argyle won’t fly
  20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
  21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
  22. The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports

C. ben-David

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

12 replies on “Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport”

  1. Very Good! As usual C. ben-David, very needed information that the vast majority of people in our nation need to know.
    I have been trying for years to alert people that we are going the wrong direction economically. Mitchell was either very dumb in economics or he was trying to destroy agriculture on purpose. Under Mitchell we lost Arrowroot, Sugarcane, Cocoanut oil, Poultry, and many other crops. Gonsalves was actually better with agriculture but has a terrible economic philosophy that is destroying the country…..SPEND! any money that sits anywhere is DEAD CAPITAL! If the economy gets bad BORROW and SPEND even more! If no one will loan money to you TAX the people!….Don’t worry, future generations will pay for it…Your great, great, great, great grandchildren will pay for all what Ralph is spending today! ALL THIS BORROWING IS DRIVING THE COSTS UP SO NO ONE ON EARTH WANTS TO PAY SO MUCH FOR VINCENTIAN PRODUCTS!!…Including Liat and Tourism! Soon they will all be going to Cuba!

    Make everything
    as expensive as possible…..
    (so the government gets a bigger cut) = Ralphonomics.

    1. Hindsight is always 20/20 but in retrospect we should never have abandoned our coconut trade because the oil is finding new markets all the time, not for cooking, but for cosmetics, skin care, etc. Two other huge and growing agricultural items are aloe vera products and pomegranate juice, both of which are ideally suited for our climate and require relatively little care and labour.

      1. I don’t know about that. It is too hot to get the great harvests of Pomegranate. I have tried about 10 trees and I know people that have a tree or two. They do not get the production like in California, Iran and such. Aloe did not do too well by me either. Pineapple is not as good here as St Lucia and who can compete with Cost Rica? Go to the supermarkets and you will see that most vegetables are from overseas. Pineapple is from Costa Rica because it cost too much to grow most anything in SVG. We can thank both Mitchell and Ralph for their stupid economics. We did well in Banana because we were given a charity price, above the market value…we have never recovered from that.

  2. Jeannine James says:

    Seriously enjoyed this. Looking forward to the 24th in the series. SVG continues to be special. Amazing how when vain politicians confront a microphone, they manage to make huge advances in willfully dumbing down the people they serve.

    1. Unfortunately, these politicians are only exhibiting what George Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations” when referring to what many whites believed about the ability of black people to succeed. The only difference is that these are the views held by the political elite in SVG, a privileged group that is almost all black.

  3. The USA has sub tropical and subtropical states. They can grow anything that the Caribbean islands can grow and usually to a better quality and standard and half the price.
    The only way to compete and supply the US is one on price and the other on quality, as neither of these is achievable by SVG the talk by Caesar is just that silly talk.

    He has already shipped containers by sea of both fish and vegetables and managed to lose the state a lot of money when those he supplied failed for one reason or another to pay for the consignments.

    He encouraged our farmers to grow butternut squash telling them he had many containers sold each month. But they could not compete on price and the export project was abandoned and the farmers left to try and market them locally.

    The export of vegetables and ground provision from SVG will never work by air the cost is too great to add to already expensive Vincentian products.

    Perhaps we should considering sending out boxes of fruit and vegetables by strapping them into the empty seats which will be on board every international flight leaving Argyle almost otherwise empty.

    But in the interim they need to find someone with some real savvy on the subject and stop Caesar making a fool not just of himself but also the farmers and the whole nation. The man clearly has no idea about the subject he has been chosen for.

    When money is lost its government and farmers who lose not himself. Perhaps farmers should send him a bill for mal advice.

    Export of agricultural goods is for trafficers not government. If they are not sending it out then there is no profit in it and there can be no profit for anyone. Best an association with some initial help from the government sends out a representative to find markets in the islands who cannot sustain agriculture, the sandy low lying islands.

    I wrote several times that we cannot compete in Europe and certainly not the UK because they have a long established supply from Africa of excellent 100% top grade produce properly graded boxed and presented. All of which has been a problem for SVG to achieve.

    We only maintained the standards of bananas because it was strictly set by Geest, and in those old days farmers got away with nothing.

    1. Great points, Peter, which will fall on deaf ears: not on Caesar’s, of course, who knows he is talking crap all the time but on the ears of our deaf and dumb people.

  4. The Right Honourable Minister of Agriculture obviously did not do his research. He is neither economist nor agrarian. Sounds more like he is parrotting what someone else told him to say. Makes him sound idiotic and uninformed if not uneducated.

    1. You do not have to be an economist or agrarian. Mitchell was an agronomist and he killed virtually all of Agriculture, Arrowroot, Poultry, Sugarcane, Cocoanut Oil and many other crops. All Ralph had to do is give a small push to kill banana by appointing lazy Montgomery to continue his slumber as Rome burned.

  5. Patrick Ferrari says:

    Carpe diem, Saboto, carpe diem lad. You safe man, you done home till 2020. You have four and three-quarter and some years to shut your face – and do nothing. Like how you did with the patrol boats to watch over the yacht tourism. Carpe diem and shut it. Else C. ben go do it for you — at least should.

    1. Hi Patrick, glad to hear from you again! You are absolutely right. Caesar has come up with the right solutions but for some reason he rarely ever gets anything done. He also said he was going to build dams all over SVG for the farmers to use during times of drought…..Where are they? He is like Ralph promising all those jobs for the past decade….Where are they? Like when Ralph said back in 2000 that he was going to repair all the roads. Like he said he was going to repair and clean-up Kingstown. Dr. Deception and his apprentices.

    2. Your piece about the “mystery patrol boats” in the Bequia harbor in the NEWS was one of the greatest articles ever. What a classic! I laughed my head-off. Please write more! See what the space cadet in Venezuela is now doing? The greatest resources in all the Americas but yet the worst-run country as well.

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