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Sandals working to revive Grenada’s agriculture

by Kimone Francis, Jamaica Observer, 30 Oct 2016

October 30, 2016

ST GEORGE'S, Grenada — General Manager of Sandals LaSource Grenada, Peter Fraser, says the country's largest resort is looking to revive the eastern Caribbean island's agriculture sector, which is expected to further strengthen its economy.

Agriculture accounts for approximately 6.2 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product, and was a key driver of economic growth prior to several hurricanes which dealt devastating blows to the sector in mid 2000. Approximately 24 per cent of the country's employment comes from the sector despite strong performances in construction, manufacturing, tourism and, off-shore sectors.

Fraser, during a tour of the hotel property last Thursday, told the Jamaica Observer that the region's largest hotel chain has realised a niche that needs to be filled in the sector.

"When you touch agriculture, that's the soul of the island and that's so important," Fraser said.

"We're relatively new; we're not even three years old yet, but we want to see us more involved in agriculture and it will happen over time," he added.

He explained that presently, supplies for several of the hotel's vegetables and fruits are sourced locally from farmers, all of whom have met the hotel's standards, and suggested that this was deliberately done to boost employment and provide income for Grenadians.

"I don't think at first people understood what this hotel was all about. They questioned whether we were going to close down in the summer like some hotels do. All of a sudden they see us running for two-and-a-half years with 80 per cent occupancy all year round. They see the volumes of what we need and say 'hey, look, this is fantastic'. Like the gentleman who supplies us with eggs; we buy all our eggs locally. The gentleman who supplies us with citrus has dedicated almost his entire farm supplying Sandals with oranges, grapefruits and limes. And we want to move on to melons and pineapples," Fraser disclosed.

Citrus farmer and supplier to Sandals, Edmund Lewis, who operates an 11-acre farm in Conference, St Andrew, and has been farming for 33 years, believes that Sandals' involvement in the sector is a game-changer, but argued that it is the Grenadian Government that needs to do more.

"I'm going to speak the honest truth. The Government in Grenada plays very little role in terms of agriculture. The Government going to say that we have programmes in the ministry but there is a separation between ministry and farmers. It's not reaching down because we have stiff competition with extension officers out here," Lewis said.

He added: "Extension officers sometimes in the middle of the day or morning you may find selling together with the farmers. Extension officers are people who are supposed to advise farmers and work with the Government. So they should see that everything runs smoothly between parties but they are the ones competing with us. They are farmers themselves. So when the key information should reach us they keep it."

Lewis insisted that the Government has been derelict in its duties to farmers and lamented that more needs to be done to assist Grenadian farmers.

Meanwhile, Fraser said that this investment in the agriculture sector, coupled with the employment Sandals provides for hundreds of Grenadians, will undoubtedly impact the country's economy.

The economy grew by more than five per cent in 2015 and is projected to grow by 2.8 at the end of 2016.

"We have about 500 people on staff but you know when you have hotels of this size the domino effect is unbelievable ...There are a lot of opportunities for not only people who work directly with us but people who benefit from Sandals being here. Whether you supply us with citrus, fruits, the potential is there and that's what we're working with right now," he said.

Fraser noted, too, that the hotel, which opened its doors in 2013, has considerably influenced one of the hemisphere's biggest airlines.

"Prior to us coming here, American Airlines had flights twice a week and you know when you have airlines come to an island you have to pay to play. You either pay for empty seats or you have to help them with their marketing. The airlines have to market the destination to fill the planes and you have to join in that.

"Since we've been here American Airlines come here every day. So that alone is significant in itself on the economy. Equally, while occupancy might drop during August, which is carnival month and it is difficult to get a flight in, we really don't have massive rotation and laying off because of occupancy," he added.

"As time goes on, our footprints in the economy will get larger and larger and that's what it's all about. We're here to help the destination in whichever way we can and part of that is employing people," said Fraser.