The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has called for an immediate intervention on the part of the Government to address the current impasse between rural coffee farmers and the Wallenford/Mavis Bank Coffee Factory.
Speaking at a ‘critical’ press conference on Monday, October 1, Opposition Spokesperson on Agriculture Fenton Ferguson says with the closure of factories, the farmers have found themselves at a significant disadvantage.
“In the two weeks since Wallenford/Mavis Bank’s decision, they have closed the factory and ceased the receival of coffee. As a result, the coffee berries are now falling from trees and left to rot in the field,” he said.
The impasse started on Tuesday, September 18 when coffee farmers demonstrated at the gate of Wallenford/Mavis Bank Coffee Factory demanding outstanding payments for coffee supplied to the company during the 2017/2018 crop.
The farmers say they’re due over $46 million in outstanding monies, representing final payments of $2,000 per box for nearly 20,000 boxes of coffee. In response, an offer from Wallenford of an additional $884 per box as the final settlement was soundly rejected, to which the company decided to suspend the buying of the current crop and to withhold the outstanding $46 million owed to the farmers.
“This is a most unhappy situation; the treatment of the farmers is not fair. They are at a tremendous disadvantage, from the sale of their coffee when beans are considered ‘light’, to the buy-out of farms for the purpose of closing them and to the lack of clarity in the lease arrangements since divestment,” he further contended.
Shadow Minister Ferguson slammed Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw for what he claims is an “unnecessary situation”, adding that several critical players, including the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), “have not been proactive and are oblivious of this serious crisis.”
“The Government must either pressure Wallenford and other buyers, or buy the coffee beans themselves. There has to be a buyer of last resort and the Opposition suggests it has to be the government and there is a precedent,” Ferguson argued.
By Franklin McKnight