Farmers give away food as virus cuts off main market

March 30, 2020
Farmers in St Elizabeth donated fresh produce to persons in the quarantine areas. The produce were collected by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and distributed in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.
Farmers in St Elizabeth donated fresh produce to persons in the quarantine areas. The produce were collected by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and distributed in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.
Farmers in St Elizabeth donated fresh produce to persons in the quarantine areas. The produce were collected by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and distributed in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.
Farmers in St Elizabeth donated fresh produce to persons in the quarantine areas. The produce were collected by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and distributed in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.
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With the closure of hotels disrupting their supply chain, members of Treasure Beach Hydroponic Farmers group have a lot of food on their hands and nowhere to sell it. One of the real possibilities they face is dumping thousands of pounds of tomatoes that they now harvest.

But instead of throwing away the food, the farmers have decided to donate fresh produce to persons who have been quarantined due to COVID-19.

"We would want to have the things sold because at the end of day, we have to meet our payroll. We don't want to dump them so we give it to somebody in need," Hopeton Singh, a member of the cooperative said.

The food is collected from the farmers and taken to the quarantine facilities by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.

Taji Alleyne, manger of the Treasure Beach Hydroponic farmers, said that more than $10 million was invested in the growing of the crops. However, with COVID-19, the losses have started to pile up.

"Within the last two weeks, the orders have completely stopped because about 95 per cent of the sales were from hotels and the hotels are no longer buying," Alleyne said.

"They're scheduled to reap again tomorrow and there is no sale for it ... Next week, they have another 1,000 lbs to give away and in two weeks they will have another 2,000 lbs so we might as well contribute to a worthy cause," Alleyne said.

As of Saturday, there were 34 persons under quarantine in a government facility and 38 persons are in isolation as part of efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus on the island. The number of persons in quarantine does not include the 140 Cuban health care workers who came into the island on March 21 and who are under quarantine for another seven days. In addition, the Health Ministry said that there are 289 persons under home quarantine - not including the residents of Corn Piece Settlement in Clarendon, who are under community quarantine until April 2.

Hotels stopped receiving guests last Friday. These facilities will remain closed for a period of two months, which means that farmers who supply these businesses will have to find other places to sell their goods.

"We are growing specialty things like cocktail tomatoes and they go directly to the resort market and now we have 3,000 lbs of tomatoes,"

Hopeton Singh, a member of the cooperative, said. "Nobody is buying anything because the occupancy levels at hotels are down to zero."

Alleyne and Singh told THE STAR they are hoping the Government can come to their rescue.

"In the same way they are able to prop up other sectors when they get into difficulty, they have to find a way for the agricultural sector," said Alleyne.

"What I fear is going to happen is that even though we have a slight down situation now, if those farmers don't have some assistance to keep crops afloat, in the long run were gonna have problems because then people won't have any vegetables to eat. Having a food shortage while having pandemic is not going to be a positive look for the country," Alleyene added.

Likewise, Singh said he is depending on the Government to provide a shoulder for them to lean on during this time.

"We still have to keep this crop alive and we need money to do that so any assistance from the Government would be appreciated," he said.

"You scratch my back I will scratch yours type of thing until things start to normalise. The country will need us in the long run. We would love for them to assist us with fertilizers and some cash input, if possible," Singh added.

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