As we end the challenging year 2022, the dilemma facing countries like ours is highlighted by the situation in capital city Kingstown and the crucial issue of market vending, more specifically, the retail of agricultural produce.
In a bid to solve the age-old and increasingly worsening problems of street vending and the attendant crowding and deplorable state of Kingstown, the government at last made a determined effort to tackle these issues right at the centre of the capital. It not only finally embarked on a clean-up campaign, after a number of hesitant starts, but also attempted to couple it by providing an organized solution to the street vending and haphazard marketing of agricultural produce in particular.
Following the reorganization of these sectors, specifically by accompanying the clean-up with the provision of new centrally organized depots for the sale of produce, agricultural produce in particular, there was widespread praise for the easing of the problem of congestion in the capital city.
However, as happens so often, there have now emerged complaints from the vendors about what they perceive as the negative effects of the reorganization and centrally provided marketing provisions on their sales, especially from the many vendors of agricultural produce. Does this indicate that there are just too many vendors of the same products? Or does it indicate the limitations of the local market especially in the current economic climate? Is there a surplus of local agricultural produce? Or is price, and therefore affordability, a major factor?
One can also look at the problems from another angle with a view towards solutions. Thus, we can ask whether the lack of ready export markets for our agricultural produce is not only a drawback to our forward progression in this area but also itself contributing to the local problems. Do deficiencies in planning have anything to do with the problems being experienced?
We have had long, and often bitter experiences in the planning and organization of the sale and marketing, locally, regionally and extra-regionally, of agricultural produce. A lot of those experiences emanated from the various centrally organized marketing Boards and corporations. Have we learnt from them, and is it that the centrally organized approach itself was faulty or did the fundamental problems stem from the implementation, particularly in the personnel involved, and often partisan approaches? Is the present situation a viable and lasting solution or do we again need to look at an organized buying and distribution depot?
There is no doubt that the government deserves high praise for its clean-up campaign, but it is clear that this aspect is but one side of the problem. We now need to examine the validity of the complaints and seek to build on what should be considered only a start. That will involve not only a comprehensive review and overhaul of the marketing arrangements for local agricultural produce but also a linkage with regional and international marketing. This must involve planning as to what we produce, in what quantities and at what price so as to be able to reach a satisfactory solution to benefit, producers, vendors and consumers alike.
We look forward to a focus on agriculture in the 2023 Budget, not just from a backslapping, self-congratulatory and politically partisan view, but in providing comprehensive solutions to this perennial life-sore.
Happy New Year to All from the Board of Directors, Management and Staff of Interactive Media Limited, publishers of SEARCHLIGHT.