Pepper farmers lament low prices from processors
I write to bring the financial plight of Jamaica's hot pepper farmers to the attention of the public, the minister of agriculture, and particularly to the pepper processors who buy their pepper.
First, the woefully inadequate price paid to pepper farmers has been fixed by the major processors at around $40 per pound for the past six or so years. One major processor has been holding out at $38 per pound for ages, and at one stage even dropped its price to farmers to $35. This, in the face of ever-increasing pepper production costs.
The $40-per-pound price was unilaterally set by processors without any consultation with farmers. As far as I have seen, only some of the direct input costs have been taken into account in determining the price offered to farmers, and these have not been reviewed in several years.
The typical pepper farmer has no interest in the ridiculous price that pepper sells for in times of scarcity such as at Christmas and in periods where adverse weather conditions limit output. Farmers would much prefer a steady price which is determined by accurate costing and which is reviewed at yearly intervals.
Such an undertaking would benefit both farmer and processor; the processor would have the assurance of a continuous supply of raw material, and the farmer would increase production to take advantage of a reasonable return on his investment. Additionally, the farmer would be put in a position to implement agricultural best practices and increase productivity by the use of basic technology.
Although farmers have not received any increase on the $40 per pound since around 2006, this has not kept at bay increases in production costs. Every increase in fertilisers, agricultural chemicals, labour costs and packaging material has had to be absorbed by the farmer. Even the Government has added to the farmers' burden by recently adding GCT to urea, a major fertiliser input, and also on seeds for planting.
In the face of the diminishing worth of the Jamaican dollar, one fertiliser manufacturer has already posted an increase for 2013. I expect that this will be the first of many such increases if the dollar continues to go south.
With the changing weather patterns predominantly trending to extended periods of drought, farmers have had to find ways to conserve on the use of water and the cost-effective application of expensive fertilisers.
One option available to pepper farmers is the use of drip-irrigation technology. There is only one company that provides drip-irrigation equipment in Jamaica and, probably because of the absence of competition in the market, farmers have had to take whatever price drip equipment is being sold at. It requires several hundred thousand dollars to equip an acre of pepper with drip hoses, fittings, fertiliser injectors, etc.
Tacked on to these already challenging prices is the Government's take of 16.5% GCT.
The other essential component of a drip-irrigation system is water. The National Irrigation Commission has also recently increased its water charges to farmers, and more increases are scheduled.
Some of the pepper processors operate farm stores which offer seeds and fertilisers to farmers.
rising input costs
Pepper pickers charge up to $10 per pound, 25% of total price received by the farmer, to pick the crop. Nevertheless, the gullible pepper farmer continues to produce while his input costs constantly rise, and the price he obtains never changes.
It is important to note that hot pepper processors have largely abandoned growing of the pepper consumed by their plants. Instead, they have left the entire production of raw material on which important parts of their businesses depend on small farmers.
These farmers shoulder alone the entire risks of droughts, hurricanes, praedial larceny and all the other hazards of farming without obtaining even a break-even price for the pepper they produce.
If processors think that this state of affairs can continue indefinitely, they are making a serious error of judgement. There is only so much that the beleaguered farmer can take without buckling under the pressure.
Western Union responds to People's Report query
We write in response to Ms Joan Mair's letter to the editor published in the People's Report section of Saturday, March 16, 2013.
The issue of 'source of funds' is one that raises questions from many of our customers, and your letter gives us the opportunity to clarify the issue for you and any other reader sharing your concerns.
GraceKennedy Money Services (GKMS) has offered Western Union services in Jamaica for more than two decades, and both companies remain committed to fully meeting the needs of our customers while operating within the remit of the laws which govern us.
Increasingly, over the past 23 years, the regulatory environment has changed worldwide, and we have been forced to change along with it in order to protect our legitimate customers, and our business here in Jamaica and across the Caribbean.
Some of these requirements, like source of funds, may appear onerous, but are implemented to comply with our responsibilities to know our customer base. It is never our intention to appear intrusive or unduly interfere in our customers' financial affairs.
To the best of our ability, we train our GKMS team members to balance customer due diligence and customer service, so we are able to comply with our regulators without compromising the speed and convenience to which our customers have become accustomed. We acknowledge that, at times, customers may feel they are being interrogated, and although this is never our aim, we must comply with our regulatory obligations.
We thank you for your business and hope this clarifies your questions.
Courteous call from Minister Thwaites
I would like to say a public thank you to the Rev Ronald Thwaites, minister of education. I wrote to him on several occasions concerning a very important unsettled matter, and followed up with calls to the ministry to get updates as to his response.
At no time did I ask to speak to the minister, but to my surprise, the minister returned my call. At my expressed surprise, he pointed out that he had a duty to do so - it was the courteous thing to do. And he was humble, courteous and pleasant.
I must also point out that, although I never had the pleasure of speaking to the former acting permanent secretary, Ms Grace McLean, she also responded to me via email.
There are positive changes in the way the Ministry of Education interfaces with the general public and its clients. It is an indication that, at the very top, this ministry really does set an example of courteous interaction it has been preaching, as it strives to change the country into a more civil society - and what better place for it to start than the head of education?
Truly, his action reminded that Jesus Himself said in Luke 22:26 (English Standard Version): "But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves."
Can you imagine what a great country we would have if other ministers and their employees adopt both the example of the Honourable Ronald Thwaites and the principles expounded by his ministry? Jamaica would become a great place for everyone to live.
Minister Thwaites, thank you for making my interaction with your ministry such a pleasure. Above all, thank you for practising what you preach. It is a refreshing change.
May your ministry be blessed as you continue to be God's public servant.
Tell us about the positives and negatives affecting your community, school or any other social space. Email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.