(SEARCHLIGHT) — Local butchers are scheduled to meet with Saboto Caesar, the minister of agriculture, on Monday, amidst claims that there is a cattle shortage in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Richard Gibson, owner of Midway Butchers, told SEARCHLIGHT this week that this country was experiencing a cattle shortage as a result of exports to Grenada.
He said that locals consumed a lot of beef over the the Christmas period, but the country had also exported a significant amount of cattle since the beginning of the year, which has resulted in the scarcity of mature cattle.
“My agent traversed the whole of the country to get cattle. The average weight of cattle that [I used to get]… is about 550 pounds carcass weight.
The average weight I’m getting now is 240, 250 – they killing the young ones and when they finish killing them, there’s no replacement,” Gibson said.
The experienced butcher said he is worried about the situation because he believes the increased exportation of cattle to Grenada has the potential to cripple several industries in the country.
He said not only butchers would be affected but also restaurants and hotels, who buy local meat.
Gibson said that the domino effect of a cattle shortage would mean that these businesses have to import meat that does not match up to the quality of meat produced locally.
He also said that while the increased export is seen as more money coming into the country, cattle farmers would have to spend at least three times the amount to replace cattle.
“We want to do something about this shortage. It’s not something we can do overnight, but the damage has been done so it’s to rectify the damage,” the butcher said.
Gibson added that it takes three to four years to rear a cattle that is ready to be slaughtered to provide quality meat.
Another experienced local butcher said he is waiting to see the outcome of Monday’s meeting at the ministry of Agriculture.
But giving his comment on the condition of anonymity, he said that one of the major issues is that there is usually no veterinarian on site to inspect the cattle when the Grenadian buyer makes his purchase from a farmer.
And as a result, the buyer is allowed to buy any cattle and that should not be the case.
The butcher said only culled cows and mature bulls should be sold and not a pregnant heifer or cattle that have not matured fully.
According to the 2019 Budget address, this country exported 267 heads of cattle to Grenada in the January to September 2018 period. This is almost a 60 per cent increase when compared to the 170 heads of cattle that was exported in the same period in 2017.
Saboto Caesar, the minister of agriculture told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that approximately 200 cattle have already been exported since the start of this year.
“The minister of agriculture is very excited by the discussion; excited because a lot of persons said there was no future in agriculture. Some people say nothing is going on in agriculture,” Caesar said in response to a question about if there was a shortage of cattle in this country.
“Now we are seeing an opportunity to make a lot of money in agriculture and an opportunity for young farmers to get into cattle production and for older farmers to increase [production].
Caesar said that St Vincent and the Grenadines is regarded as the breadbasket of the Southern Caribbean and currently the only exporter of cattle.
He further described the current situation as “an opportunity and not a war,” because an avenue is available to grow cattle production in this country.
The minister said that the conversation should never be about decreasing export, but rather increasing export while maintaining food security.
And the meeting with butchers on Monday will deal with how the government can help in the short term.
“In the short term, one thing we can do to ensure that the local butchers continue to get the throughput needed at the same price, is that we can pair butchers with producers. There are some butchers who don’t have a problem, because they have a longstanding relationship with some farmers,” he said.
However, Caesar said cattle farmers are the ones making the decisions to give preference to Grenadian buyers. And the government cannot stop a farmer from making a sale which the farmer sees as being more financially beneficial.
“For example, whilst the butcher might take one [animal] in three months from a particular producer, if it’s going to Grenada, the Grenadian may be able to take five, and … the farmer may have need for a wholesale at that time,” he said.
“Can I stop a farmer from selling to a butcher who is from another OECS island? And if I stop that farmer, it would mean quite naturally that I have to buy that cattle from that farmer and the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, we do not have a system of purchasing animals from persons. It has always been noted, however that in monitoring the exportation of cattle, from time to time, different measures may be introduced.”
The agricultural minister said both farmers and butchers continue to serve the country well and his ministry will work to ensure that butchers are not locked out.
He also said that when the next report is published, he expects that there will be measures included which speak to assisting cattle producers to increase production.
And Caesar made the call for Vincentians to invest in cattle production because there is a ready market.
“It’s not like you would grow them and can’t get them sold…in fact what we are trying to prevent is that the demand don’t go so high that we can’t supply,” the minister said.
Caesar said the last count in St Vincent revealed that the cattle stock in St Vincent was about 8000. Another assessment is expected to be carried out in the middle of this year and those findings will be made public.