DESPITE setbacks to the country’s agricultural input due to the recent passage of Tropical Strom Bret, personnel from Export Saint Lucia (ESL) are reporting substantial gains in 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 in the region.
Daniel said though Tropical Storm Bret hampered the production of Saint Lucia’s agricultural produce, nonetheless, she urged farmers to keep growing their crops as there are external markets available to sell their food stock.
“We have had a lot of interest and we have gotten a lot of contracts externally for agricultural products, but unfortunately, we’ve not been able to meet those contracts which all together over the past couple of months have been valued at a few million dollars,” the ESL official told reporters at a media briefing this week.
“Due to the passage of Storm Bret we have experienced some difficulty in getting agricultural products to export, and even domestically it has been a little harder to get agricultural products at the supermarkets,” said Daniel.
“However, we are encouraging the farming community— the agricultural community, to go into production again and to begin producing because we do have several contracts, we do have a lot of markets that are available for agricultural products,” she added.
In light of the extenuating circumstances that local farmers have had to bear since the passing of Storm Bret, Daniel informed that ESL will provide some level of support to the exporters “to ensure that they can meet that kind 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 acquire fertilizers and other inputs. She added that within the next few weeks, there should be an increase in agricultural production.
Commenting on the banana issue, she said there has been some concern over “the loss of the banana markets” through Waitrose to the United Kingdom.
However, noted Daniel, ESL has gained access to the regional market and has secured sufficient markets “to absorb all of what was being sent previously to the United Kingdom to the regional markets.”
She added: “So we do have markets available for bananas, we do have contracts that we have been asked to fill from our distributors outside of Saint Lucia, within the region.
“So, having lost the United Kingdom market for bananas is not a big loss for Saint Lucia, because we have been able to replace 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 (will be) able 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 in the agricultural sector because, at this point, we are having difficulty fulfilling some of the contracts that we have outside of Saint Lucia. We do not have sufficient products for us to export.”
Expounding on the burgeoning sea moss industry in the country, Daniel noted that the product “has been doing well for Saint Lucia. We have recorded millions of dollars in exports of sea moss, up to last year and conservatively, a figure of about $ 7 million of sea moss was exported from Saint Lucia last year.
“We are currently on track to surpass that figure from last year, so for 2023, we should be seeing an increased revenue coming from sea moss production. The government has also provided a lot of support to the sea moss farmers, and one of the initiatives involves bringing the Praslin Sea Moss Cooperative …and other cooperative members up to standard, so that they can reach the international markets.”
The ESL official also spoke about “significant improvements” in the packaging of sea moss, and some environmental interventions have been undertaken to deal more efficiently with the apparatus used for crop production.
ESL in collaboration with the government has also provided new drying tables for the sea moss farmers, and an accredited lab has conducted tests of the commodity to ascertain the nutritional content for retailers.
With all of these developments in the making, Daniel asserted: “We anticipate that by next year these factors will further elevate our sea moss sub-sector.”
She noted there has also been a request for other commodities, such as castor oil, coconuts (jelly and dry), soaps, honey, and cucumbers.
Added Daniel: “So, all of these are products we have not traditionally exported in large quantity, but in two weeks we will be sending out a significant amount of honey to an external market.
“So, there are tremendous opportunities for the raw agricultural products… these are in great demand, but also for the agro-processed products.”