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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 [email protected]. 

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ most valuable asset is its human resources. The ULP government has greatly invested in that asset through the Education Revolution. But it is of grave concern that a government of supposedly democratic socialist inclinations is betraying the nation’s most valuable asset through its approach to foreign investment.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines ought to welcome investment in cocoa and coffee from foreign investors. But not through the model and on the terms being reported in the press. It appears that foreign investors will be providing investment to reap the rewards of the toil of agricultural labourers through an economic model not far above slavery, and almost on a par with serfdom. This model would only serve to help keep St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a hand-to-mouth, heavily indebted developing country. Under this model, we would have little hope of following St Kitts and Nevis in eventually becoming a service-oriented economy. There is an alternative way of investing in agriculture in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

It is the co-operative or mutual model. The government should insist that foreign investors enter into a co-operative with farmers, whereby investors and farmers benefit proportionately from the cocoa and coffee industries, from both primary and value-added production. Lands should be leased to Vincentian farmers for cocoa and coffee production, not foreign investors. I know that our political leaders are well aware of the global debate in relation to inequality and the need for an economic model that is more sustainable than the prevailing Western neo-liberal one.

Young Vincentians currently at university share this knowledge, too. They will never forgive a government and a minister who leases hundreds or thousands of acres of crown land for several decades to foreign investors and, in so doing, perpetuate inequality and curtail their life chances.

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I wonder if it would be a good idea for the Prime Minister to discuss with the Minister of Agriculture the various possible ways of structuring investment in the cocoa and coffee sectors, and for both to choose the model that is in the best long-term interest of our Caribbean civilisation and foreign investors.

L A S Jack

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

6 replies on “Cocoa and coffee investment in St. Vincent: think some more”

  1. You say that the ULP has greatly invested in the human resource of the country with the Education Revolution….Is that why we have more young people failing entrance exams than ever before. Those whose family are able to send their kids away for schooling come back to a country where there are no jobs, because Ralph is too stupid to know how to attract investment where jobs can be created and only so many can be employed into our already over-sized government. I can write a book about the stupidity of how Ralph is destroying the economy. What a terrible financial manager and economic idiot he is.

  2. You raise some good points but you must realize that if the model that you say the foreigners are going to use, they will not get anyone to work. SVG has the highest cost farm labor in the developing world, not only that, if you take an acre of farmland anywhere in the world the most expensive place to farm it is SVG! We cannot use machines on our topography, and the good growing conditions are also good for weeds as well as crops. Who will pay for the labor? If we want to farm ANYTHING there is always someone else we have to compete with globally. When someone else can produce for less than we can, eventually the consumer will buy from them.

  3. Mustique, Canouan, Palm Island, Petit St. Vincent? Now the precious few acres of SVG crown lands that we have left? Pattern? No tangible return for Vincentians.

  4. Your idea of co-ops sounds good in theory but won’t work in practice given our dog-eat-dog highly individualized culture.

    Sure, we have a few agricultural co-operatives today that may or may not be working well but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

    Even among ganja farmers, where co-ops have flourished, more often than not, they break apart after a year or two because of distrust, dishonesty, or slacking among the members.

    Please don’t give the examples of co-op banks, credit unions, burial societies, etc. to counter my argument because they have no resemblance to the day in and day out necessity of working together and sharing labour, tools, techniques, etc., on the land in mutual agreement and trust that co-operative farming demands.

    As for your point about the negative aspects of foreign investment and control, you are dead on:

    “Ivory Coast [which produces 33 percent of world cocoa] and other West African cocoa producing nations have come under severe criticism in the west for using child slave labor to produce the cocoa purchased by Western chocolate companies. The bulk of the criticism has been directed towards practices in Ivory Coast. The report “A Taste of Slavery: How Your Chocolate May be Tainted” claims that traffickers promise paid work, housing, and education to children who are then forced to labour and undergo severe abuse, that some children are held forcibly on farms and work up to 100 hours per week, and that attempted escapees are beaten. A BBC article claimed that 15,000 children from Mali, some under age 11, were working as slaves in cocoa production in Ivory Coast, and Mali’s Save the Children Fund director described “young children carrying 6kg of cocoa sacks so heavy that they have wounds all over their shoulders.” In 2001 Chocolate Manufacturers Association acknowledged that slaves harvested some cocoa. In 2013, the U.S. DOL’s report Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Côte d’Ivoire stated that 39.8% of children aged 5 to 14 are working children and that they “are engaged in the worst forms of child labor in agriculture, particularly on cocoa farms, sometimes under conditions of forced labor.” In December 2014, the DOL’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor mentioned Ivory Coast among the countries where instances of such working conditions (both child labor and forced labor) are still observed”

    Anyone who says that such things could never happen in SVG, should remember that we already have what could be easily called sex slavery.

  5. LAS Jack:

    I support your call for the development of agricultural cooperatives in SVG. The St. Vincent Banana Growers Association was a cooperative that operated for many decades. It’s only problem was the involvement of government operatives at the highest levels. We need to follow the experience of Mondragon Cooperative in Spain …. where the coop is operated and managed by the members with little or no government involvement. Also, in the USA farmers cooperatives such as Land O Lakes, Agri-Mark, etc. are managed by professional managers and reap profits for their members without government involvement.

    On the matter of the government leasing Crown Lands to the SVG Cocoa Company there is cause for alarm. One of the principals of that company is a Hadley. Is he an offspring of the William and Leonard Hadley family of North Union? and I also understand that the manager of SVG public lands is a Victor Hadley formerly of North Union. These Hadleys are former owner of the Lauders, North Union, and South Union Estates. The estates was bought by the Mitchell government.

    Now, one of my grandfathers worked for slave-wages on the Union Estate. But when the estates were sold the workers did nor receive a penny in Reparations. So if we are now going to allow the Hadleys to lease crown lands we better make certain that the prices paid for those leases are at market rate.

    I do support the development of the cocoa-chocolate industry. However, we need to get private farmers to cooperate in building the industry. Keep out the sweetheart deals!

    Vinci Vin

    1. Vinci Samuel, with all due respect, why should your grandfather have received a penny in “Reparations” (which you capitalize as if the notion were some holy word) from the sale of Union Estate? When do any workers anywhere in the world receive a penny when the company they work for is sold or goes broke unless they are legally or contractually obliged to do so?

      Your grandfather was not a slave. He voluntarily worked for the Hadleys and could well have chosen another employer or tried another line of work as many other Vincentians did at the time or else migrated like many of his generation to Trinidad where agricultural wages were higher.

      “Wage slavery” is term which has been around for a long time and may have some utility in some situations but overall it devalues the brutality, exploitation, and involuntary servitude of the real thing.

      Don’t add to the oppression of our bonded ancestors by carelessly using this term. After all, the slaves received no wages at all, only plenty of licks.

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