HOW THE DIASPORA CAN CONTRIBUTE.
St. George -- The year 2012 has been declared the Year of Nutmeg and other spices by the government of Grenada, with the obvious aim of bolstering the re-planting and production of nutmeg and other spices.
Before the passage of hurricanes Ivan and Emily in 2004 and 2005 respectively, Grenada exported between 2,000 and 2,500 metric tons of nutmegs which brought in average annual revenues of EC$35 million to the island's economy. In 2002, the revenue from the export of nutmeg and mace peaked at EC $60 million. There were 7,000 active nutmeg farmers, and on the basis of 4 to 5 persons in a household, it was estimated that 30,000 persons benefited directly from the nutmeg industry.
Nutmeg exports in 2010 were only ten percent of the pre-hurricane levels. This in itself is an indication of the enormity of the impact of Hurricane Ivan on this pivotal sub sector and the consequential loss of income at the level of the households that depended on the nutmeg industry, especially in the rural areas.
Recognizing the critical need for resuscitating the industry, the Government of Grenada set a target to replant 600 acres of nutmeg and 100 acres of other spices in 2012. A labour support programme was put in place to assist farmers who wanted to plant at least one acre of nutmeg or other spices. The program also focused on providing assistance in repairing selected roads which service major traditional nutmeg producing areas.
Several meetings were held in traditional nutmeg growing areas to promote the programme and encourage farmers to replant nutmegs and other spices. Among the reasons farmers cited why nutmegs have not been replanted in a more aggressive way were: the long gestation period before obtaining returns from new fields (4-6 years), high costs of labour and inputs, inadequate roads and accessibility problems, idle lands and tenure issues including unresolved family tenure.
In looking at the role that the diaspora can play in resuscitating the nutmeg and spice industry, I will begin with this final factor, namely 'idle lands and tenure issues, including unresolved family tenure'.
Significant acreages of uncultivated lands are owned by persons in the diaspora. In many cases, as a result of inheritance, such lands are co-owned by family members and the final partitioning has not yet been resolved. Many resident shareholders have been reluctant to invest in the replanting of nutmegs and other spices since they are long term crops which only begin to produce revenue after a number of years. In many cases, there has been difficulty in finding the available labour or financial resources to re-invest in nutmegs. Some persons with idle nutmeg lands with connections in the diaspora are not even sure whether investing in nutmeg and spices production is a viable option.
When one does an analysis of the crop options available in Grenada, nutmeg emerges among the top ones, as it has the potential for the manufacture of numerous secondary products. A nutmeg tree produces for over 50 years and indeed most of the trees that were being harvested before the hurricanes were not planted by the persons who were benefiting from the bountiful harvest of Grenada's black gold; as these amazing trees were planted by their parents or grandparents before them.
Persons in the diaspora can contribute to this replanting effort by taking measures to regularize unresolved land tenure issues, so that long term decisions can be made regarding the use of the land.
In cases where persons in the diaspora may not have immediate plans in getting directly involved in agriculture, the property can be leased, with the planting of nutmeg and spices as a condition of the lease.
Persons in the diaspora can also support their families by simply assisting them financially in the replanting process.
The Ministry of Agriculture is presently in the process of establishing a 'Land Bank' with the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. One aspect of this initiative is that persons with no immediate plans for using their agricultural lands can entrust their property into the Land Bank which can be used by others under strict guidelines for agreed periods.
In the past, nutmegs were mainly exported in unprocessed form. This is a structural aberration that must be corrected, as most of the value from the nutmeg is being reaped by persons in the importing countries. Persons in the diaspora can invest in manufacturing businesses for nutmeg and other spices, thus transferring more of the value of the spice industry into the hands of Grenadians.
The production of Nutmed Spray by Noelville Ltd. and Spice Essential Oils from West India Spices, are examples of local investments in the spice industry with a very promising future. Apart from creating more value, local value-added production acts as effective buffer to fluctuations in international market prices.
Another significant way that the diaspora can contribute to the rebuilding of the spice industry is by purchasing Grenada spices. Apart from nutmeg, the trade in other Grenada spices is largely undeveloped. Relatively smaller quantities of cinnamon, clove, turmeric and ginger are exported by various persons to different markets in North America and the United Kingdom, mainly to Grenadian importers. The reality is that if one of the large spice traders in these countries were to place regular orders for our non-nutmeg spices, it will be difficult to supply on a sustained basis. It is therefore of strategic importance to work with "our people" in the diaspora to develop the market for our other spices since they have a better understanding of our local reality.
Grenadian importers in the diaspora, Grenadian farmers, processors, exporters and the Ministry of Agriculture can work together based on more realistic expectations and grow the business on both sides through the sharing of information, judicious planning and the establishment of proper sustainable structures.
Using this model, continuous commercial growth of spices such as cinnamon, boisden, turmeric, ginger, clove, black pepper and vanilla can be achieved and Grenadians can participate more fully in the value chain of spices, both locally and in the diaspora. We all know the value of remittances from abroad. Our own spices can contribute to that!!
Importers in the diaspora must meet the standards established by the recognised companies in the spice trade so that the Grenada brand can be well positioned as a symbol of quality. Grenada's Gold, which is a spice business operated by a Grenadian in the USA is a good example of this. When our production reaches a critical mass we will be better positioned to target some of the high end retail stores. We will not be able to compete on quantity against spices superpowers such as India and Sri Lanka, but we can certainly carve a niche for ourselves with high quality.
The diaspora can also contribute to the overall spice industry by promoting relatives and family members to study in fields which impact on the spice industry. Many Grenadian students study marketing, which is a very popular field, but extremely few have ventured into the marketing of spices. This is an area which is controlled by a handful of persons predominantly of Asian or Jewish background who, invariably make good money. So encourage your children to choose projects in marketing of spices, or to seek study attachments with spice companies such as McCormick, Great American Spice Company, Atlantic Spice Company in the USA and the British Pepper & Spice Company in the UK. This can give invaluable insights and experiences to young professionals and the confidence to venture into spice related businesses. Grenadians who seek jobs with spice companies in the diaspora can also foster linkages which can directly benefit Grenada.
Pursuing technical fields of study such as chemistry and biochemistry will also position students for future investment in the manufacture of secondary products from spices. Recently there have been meaningful local investments in producing value added products from nutmeg and other spices, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
We can therefore conclude that Grenadians in the diaspora are well positioned to contribute to the development of Grenada's spice industry, whether by directly investing in primary production and or investing in the production of value added products. By also positioning themselves or their children or relatives to study in fields which can allow them to get involved in the manufacturing and marketing channels for spice products, Grenadians will be taking greater control of the industry and helping to retain a greater slice of the pie of this valuable industry for our beautiful country.
PS: Ronald O'Neale is an agronomist and manager of the Spice Research Project of the Min. of Agriculture.