DESPITE setbacks to the country’s agricultural input as a result of the recent passage of Tropical Strom Bret, personnel from Export Saint Lucia (ESL) are reporting substantial gains within the export market and high demand for Saint Lucian products.
ESL’s Executive Director Sunita Daniel notes that the island has surpassed its levels of export for 2022, and there are prospects for covering more ground and entering new markets within the region.
Daniel said though Tropical Storm Bret hampered the production of Saint Lucia’s agricultural produce, nonetheless, she urged farmers to continue to grow their crops as there are external markets available to sell their food stock.
“We now have had loads of interest and now we have gotten loads of contracts externally for agricultural products, but unfortunately, we’ve not been in a position to meet those contracts which all together over the past couple of months have been valued at just a few million dollars,” the ESL official told reporters at a media briefing this week.
“Because of the passage of Storm Bret now we have experienced some difficulty in getting agricultural products to export, and even domestically it has been a little bit harder to get agricultural products on the supermarkets,” said Daniel.
“Nevertheless, we’re encouraging the farming community— the agricultural community, to enter production again and to start producing because we do have several contracts, we do have loads of markets which can be available for agricultural products,” she added.
In light of the extenuating circumstances that local farmers have needed to bear for the reason that passing of Storm Bret, Daniel informed that ESL will provide some level of support to the exporters “to make sure that they’ll meet that sort of demand.”
The ESL official explained that in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture which has made allocations for the farmers, the agency (ESL) has provided support to farmers to amass fertilizers and other inputs. She added that inside the subsequent few weeks, there needs to be a rise in agricultural production.
Commenting on the banana issue, she said there was some concern over “the lack of the banana markets” through Waitrose to the UK.
Nevertheless, noted Daniel, ESL has gained access to the regional market and has secured sufficient markets “to soak up all of what was being sent previously to the UK to the regional markets.”
She added: “So we do have markets available for bananas, we do have contracts that now we have been asked to fill from our distributors outside of Saint Lucia, inside the region.
“So, having lost the UK marketplace for bananas just isn’t a giant loss for Saint Lucia, because now we have been able to switch those markets regionally.”
In that context, Daniel inferred, “If farmers can go into the production of bananas, plantains, cucumbers, and all of those other products we (shall be) in a position to get markets for them to export those products.”
The ESL official reiterated that the agency encourages farmers and the agricultural community “to ramp up production within the agricultural sector because, at this point, we’re having difficulty fulfilling a few of the contracts that now we have outside of Saint Lucia. We wouldn’t have sufficient products for us to export.”
Expounding on the burgeoning sea moss industry within the country, Daniel noted that the product “has been doing well for Saint Lucia. We now have recorded thousands and thousands of dollars in exports of sea moss, as much as last 12 months and conservatively, a figure of about $ 7 million of sea moss was exported from Saint Lucia last 12 months.
“We’re currently heading in the right direction to surpass that figure from last 12 months, so for 2023, we should always be seeing an increased revenue coming from sea moss production. The federal government has also provided loads of support to the ocean moss farmers, and one in all the initiatives involves bringing the Praslin Sea Moss Cooperative …and other cooperative members up to plain, in order that they’ll reach the international markets.”
The ESL official also spoke about “significant improvements” within the packaging of sea moss, and a few environmental interventions have been undertaken to deal more efficiently with the apparatus used for crop production.
ESL in collaboration with the federal government has also provided new drying tables for the ocean moss farmers, and an accredited lab has conducted tests of the commodity to establish the dietary content for retailers.
With all of those developments within the making, Daniel asserted: “We anticipate that by next 12 months these aspects will further elevate our sea moss sub-sector.”
She noted there has also been a request for other commodities, similar to castor oil, coconuts (jelly and dry), soaps, honey, and cucumbers.
Added Daniel: “So, all of those are products now we have not traditionally exported in great quantity, but in two weeks we shall be sending out a major amount of honey to an external market.
“So, there are tremendous opportunities for the raw agricultural products… these are in great demand, but in addition for the agro-processed products.”