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Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Saboto Caesar, third from left, if flanked by representatives of Sandals, Rayneau Industries and VincyFresh during a recent engagement with the state-owned Agency for Public Information.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Saboto Caesar, third from left, if flanked by representatives of Sandals, Rayneau Industries and VincyFresh during a recent engagement with the state-owned Agency for Public Information.
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By Kenton X. Chance

The role of local farmers in providing agricultural produce to Sandals Beaches Resort in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has come into focus, six weeks before the resort is scheduled to open.

The government has begun to hint that a company owned by a non-national may emerge as the entity to which farmers must sell agricultural produce to be resold to the resort, which is slated to open on March 27.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on Feb. 2 that Rainforest Seafood, in Calliaqua — a company owned by Jamaicans linked to the owners of Sandals — will provide seafood to the resort.

He also spoke of agricultural produce being sold to the resort through “an aggregator or aggregators”, saying that Sandals will not buy from individual farmers.

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However, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday said this week that Gonsalves’ statement that Sandals will not buy agricultural produce from individual farmers is “extraordinary”.

“Where is the government in all of that?” he said on his weekly radio programme on Monday.

The fishers here, they go out and they come, you get an order, whether it’s 20 pounds of Barracuda or red snapper, or whatever. And they provide it on a daily basis. I don’t know what’s wrong with that model,” the opposition leader said.

He, however, said that while each hotel has the freedom to do their business as they choose, the “government also has an obligation to say, ‘We need to get some benefit from it for the small man, for the ordinary people. Because all the people in this country here, you know, we don’t have big suppliers.”

Sandals will open its 301-room resort at Buccament Bay on March 27, less than two years after signing a deal with the government that saw it taking over the former Buccament Bay Resort, which was almost completely demolished during the renovations.

Speaking on radio on Feb. 2, Gonsalves said Sandals will buy seafood from Rainforest Seafood.

Rainforest Seafood, a seafood-processing plant that opened in Calliaqua in July 2022, is owned by a company founded by the brother of the chairman of Sandals Resort International, which is also headquartered in Jamaica.

The prime minister urged farmers to sell their produce to a similar “aggregator” who would resell to the Sandals, but did not identify who that aggregator would be.

Sandals, however, told iWitness News on Wednesday that it has been in conversation with the Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders since the project started two years ago.

PM Des Vignes
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, centre, and Terence Des Vignes, project manager at Sandals Resorts, left, during a tour of the construction site of Sandals Beaches Resort in Buccament Bay on Jan. 30, 2024. (Photo: Lance Neverson/Facebook)

The company said the government had identified specific “aggregators”, a term it attributed to the government.

But the opposition leader said on NICE Radio on Monday that Gonsalves’ announcement that Sandals will not buy from individual farmers was “an extraordinary statement”.

“Does this mean then that the local fishermen they have to sell to somebody [who would] then sell to Sandals — there has to be a middleman — which means they’re getting very little? Is it the same thing with the farmers? I mean, how come other hotels buy from farmers?”

Friday said that Sandals, as a business, will look for the best deal it can get.

“You hope that as good corporate citizens they’ll be looking for the bigger picture. But the government has a responsibility to say, ‘Well, listen, I am looking out for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I am looking out for the people of this country and I am going to make the best deal or bargain I can for the people of this country.’”

The opposition leader said that the government should not just make it “easy and smooth for the developer to go about and do their thing and then the rest of the people are running, playing catch up to try to figure out ‘How can I benefit a little bit from this major tourism development that has come here.’

“And when they come and they promised — the government — the promise all of these things, you know, so long ago.”

Finance Minister had promised opportunities for local farmers, fishers

In July 2020 at the signing ceremony between the government and Sandals, Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves said Sandals had committed to spending a minimum of US$100 million for the rehabilitation and construction of its Beaches Resort in St. Vincent.

He said the deal said Sandals would provide employment for approximately 700 Vincentians.

The finance minister further said that in the deal document, the government repeatedly committed Sandals to not import all their food from Miami or elsewhere, but to buy their food and their fish from Vincentian farmers and Vincentian fisherfolk.

“And I told them that when they came today, and the government told them when they came today, don’t come with airy-fairy numbers. Come with specifics tell us so we can prepare for your arrival,” he said at the July 2020 event.

Gonsalves had said that the Sandals property at Buccament would require 700,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables every year.

Further, annually, the resort would need 82,000 pounds of pineapples; 48,000 pounds of bananas; 37,000 pounds of lettuce; 555,000 eggs; 8,000 pounds of lobster; 90,000 pounds of fish; 880,000 pounds of rice; 90,000 pounds of flour; and 70,000 pounds of pork. It would need 1,400 bottles of beer a day, the finance minister had said.

Camillo De Vigne
Minister of Finance Gonsalves, right, and Terence Des Vignes, project manager at Sandals Resorts, left, during a tour of the construction site of Sandals Beaches Resort in Buccament Bay on Jan. 30, 2024. (Photo: Lance Neverson/Facebook)

“I want the farmers and the fisher folk to understand that a massive market for your produce is now sitting in your midst. You don’t have to call a trader or trafficker to take some boxes down to Trinidad or across to Barbados or up to the BVI.

“There is a market right here that wants to buy 700,000 pounds a year of fruit and vegetable and fish, from the farmers and fisherfolk of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. That in itself is transformative,” Gonsalves had further said.

Sandals says gov’t has identified ‘aggregators’ 

In the statement on Wednesday, Sandals told iWitness News that the company is “extremely proud to lead engagement with stakeholders including local farmers, fishermen, and other suppliers throughout the Caribbean”.

The company said it has “an impressive record” in every island where we operate “of working with our communities”, adding that in Jamaica, over 90% of fresh fruit and vegetables come from local suppliers, “and we continue to work toward building strong relationships with farmers and fisherfolk throughout the region, including Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

“In fact, during the construction phase of the resort we engaged several local suppliers of goods and services.  Also, at the very start of this project, over two years ago, we started to meet with the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as other stakeholders during which it was made very clear what our needs and expectations would be.”

Sandals told iWitness News that it is “logistically impossible to buy from scores of individual suppliers, and in the other territories where we operate we work alongside stakeholders to develop a centralized place through which we can access local produce.

“Similarly the Government and Ministry of Agriculture in Saint Vincent has identified specific local entities they have called ‘aggregators’ which will be the liaison between us and the farmers, and who can ensure that there is a regular supply of good quality produce which is so very critical to our operations.

“We look forward to strengthening and building robust relationships with local stakeholders to maximize the benefits of tourism in the beautiful Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,” Sandals said. 

Sandals Resort
Sandals Beaches Resort at Buccament Bay is slated to open on March 27, 2024.

VincyFresh, Rayneau Industries in consultation with farmers, Agriculture Minister

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post on Friday, Agriculture Minister Sabato Caesar said he had had that day “a fruitful meeting with the Chef from Sandals”.

Caesar said he had had “an excellent discussion regarding the supply of local products to Sandals”, adding that VincyFresh had all their products on display.

“We will be working with all food producers in the coming weeks. It was also a great showcasing of OECS solidarity with Rayneau Industries present, which has been in consultation with Sandals over the past weeks.”

Rayneau Industries, is owned by Rayneau Gajadhar, a St. Lucian businessman who owns the company to which the government has leased 59 acres of prime agricultural lands in Richmond for the operation of a quarry for or 30 years.

While a pebble is yet to roll off a conveyor belt at the quarry almost two years later than scheduled, in March 2023, Gajadhar exported his first shipment of agricultural produce from St. Vincent to the United States Virgin Islands.

In his post, Caesar said:

“There is the potential to establish a vegetable supply chain that will export to hotels in neighbouring islands.”

He said this “diversification in action”, adding, “Over the coming days the Ministry will be preparing to launch a platform for local, regional and international investment in our food production sector.

“SVG is the breadbasket of the Southern Caribbean. We need local, regional and international investors to work with the government to lift agriculture higher. We will get this job done!” the agriculture minister said.

Godwin Friday 1
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday in a an. 9, 2024 photo.

How are farmers, fishers going to be integrated?

However, the opposition leader noted that Sandals is now being constructed at the site of the failed Buccament Bay Resort, which operated between 2008 and 2016, when it closed after the government disconnected its electricity for failure to pay.

The opposition leader said the government would have given Sandals a number of concessions to encourage them to come to the country.

“… because in return for that, the expectation is that then we will have a lot of the economic benefits that usually come with such a major investment and this is where the worrying question now arises. Because we are having to be asking questions that should have been answered a long time ago,” Friday said.  

That is, how our farmers, how are local producers going to be benefiting from this. How are they going to be integrated into the buying and selling that is going to be done at this hotel and all the hotels in the country?”

The official opening of Sandals is just six weeks away and Friday said the government should not now be saying to farmers and fishers that they need to come together and step up to the plate.

He said the government has been failing the farmers and fishers, adding that it is the role of the government to ensure that producers are put in a position so that they can benefit from the developments that are coming.

“Is it only that their interest, or their approach is to get the developer to come here, start their thing, and they do their business and they can go and have conferences there and have big meetings and so forth and show off that they have this big thing opening?” Friday said.

“You have a big conference going on there and then the little man, the fisherman, and the farmer, he’s standing by the side lines, and saying ‘Where’s my piece of the action?’

“You call that development? This is the kind of stuff we did back in the 60s and, and 70s and whatever. We learn from that.”

Friday said this is what he means when he says development is about people.

“… this is precisely what I’m driving at. It’s not about big projects. It’s not about big, shiny objects, whether it’s a hotel, or a fisheries complex in Owia or a port or an airport, and so forth.

“Of course, you need those things, but they are in service of creating opportunities for people. Otherwise, what’s the point? You’re spinning top in mud, you’re not doing it just to prove it can be done. You’re doing it because you want to bring development to the country, opportunities to our people, jobs for our people, better paying jobs for our people. That is our priority,” the opposition leader said.

3 replies on “Did govt fail to help farmers, fishers prepare for Sandals?”

  1. Friday needs to shut up and let Sandals, a highly experienced and disciplined hotelier, work out its food supply network as it sees fit based on a tried and true model is has used for years across the Caribbean.

    But instead doltish Friday wants to see hundreds of food producers each selling a tiny amount of produce to line up outside Sandal’s kitchen on a daily basis to sell its produce — 10 pounds of this and 10 pounds of that — a nonsensical option in this day and age where all over the developed world specialized aggregators and dis-aggregators perform this vital middleman function.

  2. The funny thing is we quick to jump on the obvious foreign interests for politics. But we have Coreas here stifling small business with cheap foreign imports for an eternity . Coreas is the kingpin but there is a growing trend of more importers and towards import culture.

    I am sure these importers have shown up to undercut any vincy oportunitues for Sandals and will be there to undermine us for any future developments. What is the real difference ? None of them committed to svg. Our only hope is investors can see the benefit of local clean organic quality and not just fall for the lowball from importers.

  3. Ben you Mister know it all.
    If the government had care about the local man instead of having the St Lucia man he would have reopened something like the marketing board where farmers can sell their stuff and instead Jamaican rain forest the plant in owia could have being used for the Fisher folks to sell their fish.
    Let the money stay in svg instead of going to Jamaica and st Lucia
    So don’t think because you have a big mouth you know it all.

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