Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Hundreds of farmers waiting nearly a year on payment for cocoa supplied to the Cocoa Industry Board (CIB) are being urged to hold strain for a bit longer as the board is waiting for payment from overseas business partners.
Farmers have described the wait as onerous and fear that the CIB, which is in divestment talks, may be bankrupt and they may never get paid.
But permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanbury, says the Government will honour all outstanding payment to farmers irrespective of how long the wait.
"I know there are some problems, but this is not a case where the farmers will not be paid. The board paid $5m to farmers (last) Monday and we owe a balance of $6.5m. So the Cocoa Industry Board is not bankrupt," said Stanbury as he expressed sympathy and apologised to the farmers for the long wait.
"We have enough receivables to pay the farmers. But they have to understand that when they supply the cocoa, the suppliers here have to wait on the overseas buyers to pay them before they can pay the farmers. This how it goes," added Stanbury.
Cocoa farmers have complained to The Sunday Gleaner of being in limbo after hearing no word from suppliers to whom they sold cocoa more than eight months ago.
According to the farmers, there has been a perennial delay in payment for cocoa over the years. However, Stanbury said the board had cleared a backlog owed to the farmers some time ago.
"I know a significant part of the backlog was cleared. But I can't say how far the backlog went and how much was paid."
According to Stanbury, "From time to time, a short-term line of credit is secured to pay farmers, but I don't know what is the situation with the last crop. The board will not go bankrupt because it does not pay on a timely basis."
The Government is seeking to divest itself of the commercial assets of the CIB and talks are under way. The acting agriculture minister, Derrick Kellier, announced recently that the Development Bank of Jamaica is overseeing the divestment, which is expected to be completed shortly.
While not putting a timeline on the completion of talks, Stanbury said he was hopeful that they would be completed by the end of this financial year.
Cocoa farmers urged to wait a bit longer for payments