Will the SLPA Woo the Taste Buds of St. Lu­cians?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Alicia Valasse

The im­ages of smoke be­ing re­leased from a bar­beque grill or a re­mod­eled drum gar­nished with sea­soned treats of­ten sig­nal the ap­proach­ing week­end in Saint Lu­cia. In ev­ery cor­ner of the is­land, chick­ens re­ceive their last rites – they are cer­e­mo­ni­ously stripped of their plumage, chopped to the de­light of cus­tomers, dipped in lo­cal sea­son­ing and later smoked to ap­pease thou­sands of wait­ing taste buds. As the smoke leaves the grill, peo­ple gather around to rem­i­nisce on the weekly events which evaded the news; the late pay cheques, the penny-pinch­ing bosses, the teenagers lost in the eu­pho­ria and con­fu­sion of ado­les­cence and the wives wait­ing at home to ra­tion the month’s pit­tance. Be­hind all these scenes, the poul­try farmer per­se­veres.

Poul­try farm­ers work tire­lessly ev­ery day on farms all over the is­land. They feed the birds, en­sure proper ven­ti­la­tion of the sur­round­ings, con­sis­tently mon­i­tor the be­hav­iour of the flock, col­lab­o­rate with an­i­mal nu­tri­tion­ists and keep de­tailed records of hap­pen­ings on the farm. With­out their hard work, week­ends would un­de­ni­ably be void of that un­mis­tak­able aroma and savour of roasted chicken. Spon­ta­neous gath­er­ings by strangers at the road­sides would cease and the week­end en­trepreneurs would be forced to re-em­brace the plight of the un­em­ployed.

In re­cent times, the Saint Lu­cia Poul­try As­so­ci­a­tion (SLPA) has been fea­tured promi­nently in the news for a plethora of rea­sons, chief of them be­ing the high cost of lo­cal chicken and the in­crease in the lo­cal poul­try quota. In a bid to bring the is­land “closer to sus­tain­abil­ity”, the SLPA has wel­comed the move to in­crease the quota from 25% to 40%.

The as­so­ci­a­tion alone can­not achieve the ob­jec­tive of “self-suf­fi­ciency”, how­ever noble. It must be a col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture be­tween the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and the poul­try farm­ers. Pres­i­dent of the SLPA, Isaac Alphonse ac­knowl­edges that it would be very dif­fi­cult for poul­try pro­duc­ers to grow the in­dus­try in the face of rigid gov­ern­ment pol­icy and in­ter­na­tional trade re­quire­ments. “The an­swer lies in re­pelling aged trade laws that pro­vide ben­e­fits to the de­vel­oped world at the ex­pense of Small Is­land De­vel­op­ing States. Es­sen­tially, the ef­forts of all stake­hold­ers should be fo­cused on pro­vid­ing a qual­ity prod­uct with the aim to en­hance food se­cu­rity. It should not be on max­i­miz­ing prof­its,” he says.

Fur­ther, the as­so­ci­a­tion too must make a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to con­vince the na­tion of the im­por­tance of such an in­dus­try in achiev­ing food se­cu­rity and low­er­ing the mount­ing im­port bill. Records from the Caribbean Poul­try As­so­ci­a­tion (CPA) re­veal that the poul­try in­dus­tries in the named de­vel­oped states of the re­gion are grad­u­ally achiev­ing the sta­tus of “self-suf­fi­cient” while the Wind­ward Is­lands and Haiti con­tinue to bat­tle to keep up with the small quo­tas amidst high im­port per­cent­ages. “This is so be­cause lo­cals have not been thor­oughly con­vinced to look away from the no­tion that “any­thing lo­cal is bad”. They have been se­duced by the hol­low as­sump­tion that “for­eign is bet­ter” and this ide­ol­ogy has sin­gle-hand­edly crip­pled in­dus­tries while send­ing many oth­ers to their graves,” Alphonse says.

Who is to blame for these per­cep­tions? Have gov­ern­ments and busi­ness own­ers failed in con­vinc­ing the peo­ple that sup­port­ing lo­cal ini­tia­tives serves to bet­ter our economies, strengthen our en­trepreneurs and re­in­force last­ing link­ages? Are cus­tomers ad­e­quately in­formed of the prod­uct be­fore them? Has the SLPA ef­fec­tively mar­keted the prod­uct to the con­sumers? In the past, “we did not see the need to pro­mote the lo­cal chicken as the mar­ket was so small,” Alphonse ad­mits, but with a re­ju­ve­nated, zeal­ous as­so­ci­a­tion he hopes to con­vince St. Lu­cians that “lo­cal is bet­ter, health­ier and far su­pe­rior than that which is im­ported.”

Head of The Saint Lu­cia Poul­try

As­so­ci­a­tion, Isaac Alphonse.

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