BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
A group of small farmers in Rowlands Field, St Thomas, who pooled to sell thousands of pounds of ground produce to an exporter have been left adding up their losses, as all attempts to collect the $3.5 million owed to them have failed.
Now all the farmers — who said they toiled day and night to meet the order — have to show for their labour is a contract which they signed with the Kingston-based exporter and the purchase orders indicating what is now owed.
Clarence Thompson, who heads the 40-member strong Rowlands Field Farming Group, told the Jamaica Observer North East that the farmers were only too eager to identify a reliable market for their produce, therefore they never questioned the credibility of the exporter, even after he failed to make a payment after the first 40-foot container load of produce, valued at a little over $1 million, was delivered on December 17, 2012.
He explained further that in addition to their own produce the exporter was also able to convince them to source produce from fellow farmers in the adjoining Johnson Mountain community.
"The man just tek we things and disappear and from December till now we can't get a hol' of him and di farmers dem want dem money," a frustrated Thompson said.
"This just lick we off ah we feet," he added, shaking his head in despair.
According to Thompson, the farmers were able to supply the exporter with 17,000 pounds of pumpkin, 1,000 pounds of pepper, 3,000 pounds of dasheen, and 5,000 pounds of yam, among other produce.
The farmers said they were confident they would have been paid as the exporter gave them a contract, a copy of which was obtained by the Observer North East.
Thompson said although doubts had began to rise after they delivered the first container of produce on December 17, they took comfort in the promise made in the contract that payments would be made fortnightly after the delivery, and as such made a second delivery on December 26.
The contract stated that all members of the group should deliver weekly for two weeks and the third week thereafter will receive weekly payment.
But since receiving the last container, the farmers said the exporter has not been taking their calls. Efforts by the Observer North East to reach him have also proven futile as the cellphone number listed on the contract is said to no longer be assigned.
In the contract, the exporter outlined that the farmers' group would plant exclusively for his company and would plant on a consistent basis to supply produce throughout the year.
"It is mutually agreed that Rowlands Field Farmers Group will do outsourcing until their crop is ready for harvesting," the contract stated.
But Thompson said the decision for them to source produce from other farmers could end up in conflict as these persons are even more desperate to hear about their money.
"If it was not for good faith between us and the farmers dem from Johnson Mountain we woulda been in problem because we take dem how much thousand pounds ah dasheen and sell to dis man and to this day we don't see one red cent," Thompson fumed.
"See all the farmers dem who fi get pay deh, and nutten," he said, pointing to the group of men nearby, who were taking a short break after labouring in the fields all day.
The farmers said they have been seeking assistance from various authorities to help them to get their money, but to no avail.
"We have exhausted every avenue we know - from police to the Jamaica Agricultural Society - to try and get we money and there is nobody to help us," said a despondent Thompson.
He raised concern about a clause in the contract which stated that "all arising disputes should be settled amicably. In case of prolonged dispute or concern for a period of six months or more, arbitration should be sought. The appointed arbitrator must be dependent and mutually approved by both parties."
But the farmers said they are unable to locate the exporter even for this arbitration to begin.
Alfred Reid, who provided the exporter with $60,000 worth of produce, said this experience highlights the need for farmers to have dedicated markets for their produce.
"This man come reap off we things and send abroad and not even ah cent we no get and we no have nobody to complain to," he said, adding that the farmers are desperate for the intervention of the relevant authorities.
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