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T&T’s fertiliser, chemicals cheap—Pires
Managing director of Caribbean Chemicals and Agencies Ltd Joe Pires is insisting that Trinidad has the cheapest chemicals and fertilisers in the Caribbean. Pires said that T&T fertilisers prices were the lowest in the region when compared to our regional neighbours Dominica and Antigua. Pires was responding to calls made by president of the National Foodcrop Farmers’ Association, Terrence Haywood, who in last week’s Sunday Guardian appealed to the Government to subsidise the cost of inputs to farmers, since the soaring prices of fertilisers and chemicals had been fuelling food inflation which rose to 12.3 per cent in November—the first time in six months that year-on-year food prices had increase by double digits.
The increases in food prices, according to the Central Bank, caused the rate of inflation to jump to 5.7 per cent from 3.7 per cent, and may resulted from the flooding of some agricultural areas in late October and early November last year. This impacted local supply and prices of fruits and vegetables. Haywood insisted that the cost of production to farmers was putting a heavy strain on the farmers’ pockets and appealed for Government’s intervention.
Haywood suggested that Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs Minister Vasant Bharath offer subsidies to buffer their costs. Pires, however, did not agree with Haywood, saying that Bharath should be credited with coming up with a programme of revised incentives for farmers to boost the overall efficiency and productivity of the agricultural sector, from which the farmers have been benefiting. Among the incentives offered, Pires said, are vehicles, water for agriculture, land preparation, machinery and equipment, soil conservation, crops, guaranteed prices, agro processing, new farmers and farms and security.
Pires: Competitive market.
Speaking at his El Socorro office on Wednesday, Pires stressed that T&T’s fertilisers and chemical prices were the cheapest in the Caribbean. “That’s why all the Caribbean islands buy from us because of our reasonable prices.” Caribbean Chemicals is the largest single supplier of chemicals and fertilisers in the Caribbean with offices in Jamaica, Guyana T&T and Suriname. “It’s a competitive market out there. We fight for our farmers. If I have an expensive chemical the farmers will not buy.”
Antigua and Dominica have been selling fertilisers and chemicals at higher prices than T&T, Pires said, based on some internal research that his firm had undertaken. He even pointed out USA sells Round-Up, a weed killer at a higher price than us. The prices of Round-Up, Pires said, decreased last year due to competitive forces in T&T. There are approximately ten importers of fertilisers and chemicals products in the country. Pires reiterated that the cost of fertilisers, which comprise a number of elements, including ammonia, is linked to international energy prices.
A rippling effect
“So when oil prices are high, logistically fertilisers and chemicals will be high. This is the bottom line. Chemicals are partly dependent on the price of oil. There will never be steady price. It will always fluctuate.” Pires said not only will oil prices have a rippling effect on farmers and consumers, but on all oil-based products. Pires said once oil prices continue to soar, fertiliser prices will keep moving upward, which will result in higher food prices for consumers. “Also, what we have seen in Trinidad is a minor increase in prices which is primarily based on the devaluation of the TT dollar which rose from $6.30 to $6.40 plus. That has caused some items to go up. Yes, we have had prices increases but it has been very minor due to the foreign exchange rate.” The TT has lost less than two per cent of its value in the last three years.
Last year, Pires said Bharath changed the way in which fertilisers were being distributed which was not effective and only frustrated the farming population. Under the then People’s National Movement government, Pires said 90,000 bags of fertilisers were imported to T&T through YARA. “The system of buying and collecting was frustrating, in that, the farmer would buy the fertiliser at one place and collect at another location.”
Pires said that has since changed with Caribbean Chemical being awarded a contract for the handling of distribution of the fertilisers. Bags of 12-12- 17 +2 compound fertiliser weighing 25 kilograms have been distributed to farm stores in agricultural districts and sold at a subsidised price of $115. Outside, the fertiliser can be purchased at $180. Pires said last year, 12-12-17+2 was approximately $160 a bag.
Overall, the distributor and retailers, Pires said make less than ten per cent mark up. “How much lower can we go?” Admitting that some fertilisers in T&T have increased by 200 to 300 per cent in the last three years, Pires said “We have not seen any significant prices on chemicals over the last year. While regional farmers have been complaining about prices, Pires said they have been trying to keep the prices steady for the last 18 months.
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