From glut to competition: As tourism reopens, farmers recover marketsWednesday, October 13, 2021
IN June 2021 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MOAF) responded to a glut in the supply of tomatoes in St Elizabeth by purchasing 10,000 pounds from farmers, under the Government's buy-back programme. More than $30 million was allocated to purchase the excess produce which was then being sold anywhere from $35 to $40 per pound.
However, tomatoes are today, in mid-October, selling for $300 per pound and more, with some vendors projecting that the price may reach $800 per pound by Christmas. The period will mark the first month of the tourism winter season.
The cause of higher prices for tomatoes and other produce are due not only to recent rains which have impacted supply, but also to the reopening of the tourism industry.
Informed sources told the Jamaica Observer last week that the Government's agriculture agencies are contemplating importing staple supplies, as shortages and increased prices emerge.
The Government and private sector Tourism Linkages Network's agriculture working group have arranged to buy farming output. It is a joint initiative between the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) of the Ministry of Tourism, and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.
When the hotel sector in Jamaica was shuttered with the advent of COVID-19 in the first fiscal quarter, 2020, the Government established a buy-back scheme for farmers so that produce previously planted for the hotel sector would not rot in the ground.
However, things are now turning around as some hotels report up to 70 per cent occupancy. The RADA-backed linkages programme is in full swing, aiming to provide hotels with a large variety and volumes of produce.
As expected, it also creates alternate supply chains for primarily small and independent boutique hotel properties.
In 2019, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw encouraged farmers to position themselves to take advantage of an expected boom in tourism.
He said then that the Government's target of adding 15,000 hotel rooms by 2021 presented a golden opportunity for players in the local sector. He encouraged, “We must get to the point where our tourists are fed with what we produce here, locally.”
With large hotel chains now faced by shipping and supply chain issues, they now appear to be in competition with the local population for farm produce.
RADA and the MOAF, it is said, are contemplating permitting imports of produce for resale in local markets as prices move out of the reach of locals who do not have hard-currency resources.