Today’s issue of SEARCHLIGHT covers some issues relating to the future of the local arrowroot industry. In past times the arrowroot industry was not only a major component of the agricultural sector in St Vincent and the Grenadines but also a major contributor to the local economy bringing in significant foreign exchange earnings from arrowroot exports.
Not only were there arrowroot holdings in the northern half of St Vincent, on both the east and west but there were also a number of factories providing employment for workers. In addition, the local Arrowroot Association had an impressive headquarters in Kingstown, on the site where the NIS is now located. It is not well known but within the head office in Kingstown there was a photograph of a World War I airplane, to the purchase of which the local Arrowroot association had generously contributed to help Britain’s war effort.
The industry has seen many good times and facilitated the rise of influential farmers as well as being a hotbed of contention in local politics. But there has been a steady decline in recent yeas as explained by current Manager Selmon Walters, himself a former government Minister and diplomat. The decline, for a variety of reasons, has caused significant downsizing of the industry to the extent that there is now only a single factory, at Owia, which itself was destroyed by the volcanic eruption in 2021. A new one is being constructed with the financial assistance of the government of India.
In the wake of the destruction of the factory and the cessation of economic activity, the government has been pumping financial support into the industry, primarily for farmer support. This, according to the projections of Mr. Walters, is likely to continue for the next three years or so.
As commendable efforts are made to support the industry and the farmers, it is vital that realistic appraisals are made, and suitable approaches taken. It is not as simple as building a factory and hence solving all the myriad problems in the industry. The arrowroot industry has also experienced the harsh realities of international trade. We have recently gone through a harsh banana experience and must learn from it. Thus, while there are still marketing possibilities for our fine arrowroot starch, among the best in the world, there is competition on the international market, that from Thailand being singled out.
Critically too, the issues of production and quality must be given priority. There is also the need for attention to governance, management and marketing matters. We cannot hope to build a modern industry with outdated structures and approaches.
This is a modern world, cut-throat in nature and the industry will only survive if we learn from our bitter experiences, and not only have a modern factory, but a modernized industry, capable of surviving in difficult times and able to chart a course forward.