Members of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Arrowroot Farmers Association are of the opinion that the Act which governs the operations of the industry is long overdue for an overhaul.
This was revealed by Calvert Millar, a Board member of the Association, who said that along with the construction of a new factory to process the roots, the Act should be amended to cater for the modern demands of the industry.
“The Act needs to be amended urgently and it is something we have discussed. The current Act has been around since the 1970’s, and has never been reviewed, yet it still governs the arrowroot industry today,” Millar said.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Nerrissa Gittens-McMillan told SEARCHLIGHT: “We are aware that the Act has been around for a while, and it is our duty to assist wherever possible. At the end of the day, we are talking about rebuilding, and in the whole rebuilding process, that is part of what needs to be done”.
A new factory under construction at Orange Hill was significantly damaged by the volcanic eruptions in April.
“…We are looking at when the factory is completed that it can run 24-hour shifts which would include even more than processing of arrowroot, and therefore we need to have the mechanisms in place to allow for that smooth transition,”the Permanent Secretary said.
The manager of the Association Selmon Walters told SEARCHLIGHT that,“The Act is outdated, and it was discussed sometime ago about renewing it. As a matter of fact, it was discussed that we should have a new Act. I do not know where it is right now, but I think the Ministry of Legal Affairs looked at it, and a new one was proposed. We all agreed that it was outdated and needs to be amended.”
Plans are also in the making to increase the acreages under cultivation and the efficiency of operations at the factory level when the new factory becomes operational, so as to drastically reduce waste Arrowroot farmers currently cultivate two types of rhizome, one of which is called banana arrowroot that was introduced a few years ago, and is the one most farmers plant because it has more starch, grows in clusters and is easy to harvest.
Millar said that he and many other farmers have begun planting the banana arrowroot, but the absence of a modern factory with upgraded processing equipment is retarding progress.
According to Walters, “Where processing is concerned, it may go into inactivity until the new factory is completed, but the industry has a bright future. It is the mainstay of the North Windward economy, and I do not see the government not doing it. When the new factory is completed we would be well be on our way. It is healthy and growing strong.”
When La Soufriere erupted explosively in April 2021, it severely damaged the factory at Owia, and Hurricane Elsa completed the destruction. Focus now is on constructing the new factory since the one at Owia can no longer be used, and the cost of repairs would be huge.
“The acreage is always on the increase. When I took over three years ago we had 120 farmers; now we have 150 farmers. It is always increasing and I think they are onto something good. The new factory is designed not just to crush the rhizome [and extract] the starch, but to take it into a second industry, to do a sort of multipurpose packaging,” Walters said.