PHILIPSBURG – “A watermelon for 6 dollars? For that price I can’t get it anywhere on the island ”, it sounds on the busy fruit and vegetable market of the Sint Maarten Consumers Coalition.
It is the second market that the consumer coalition organized and it attracted hundreds of Sint-Maarten people. “They show that it is possible: good quality and affordable prices,” says a customer.
Fruit and vegetables and other foods are relatively expensive on the island. Most food on Sint Maarten is imported, there is little agriculture on the island itself. And that particularly affects people with little income.
The consumer coalition that organizes the market is also called the “anti-poverty platform”. It is a collaboration between the Seniors and Pensioners Association and seven employees’ unions on St Maarten. Raymond Jessurun is one of the three founders of the coalition.
They do a test for three months: they import a container with fruit and vegetables from the Dominican Republic every two weeks. They then offer them for the purchase price. Consumers must register first. Jessurun: “It’s not a real market, we work with volunteers and don’t make a profit. We bundle the purchasing power of our members. ”
Health education is also provided in collaboration with the Collective Prevention Services. Jessurun: “We want to make people more aware of cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes. Good nutrition can contribute to recovery or prevention thereof. But then it must be affordable. ”
The government regularly publishes a comparison of prices at various supermarkets and a maximum price applies to a number of basic items. But according to Jessurun that is not enough. “Since many families on St. Maarten have less than 4000 guilders – about 2222 dollars – a month to spend, that is not enough.”
Miguel Deweever, Secretary General at the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunications calls the market “a good initiative”. But he does not want to respond further to questions about the (high) prices of fruit and vegetables and what the government is doing about this.
Alex Tanhueco, manager of fresh products from Carrefour does not want to say anything about what he thinks of the consumer coalition initiative. When asked whether the supermarket itself cannot make fruit and vegetables cheaper, he says that they do not only look at the price when purchasing.
“We give priority to local suppliers of St Maarten or, for example, the Dominican Republic. And if smaller farmers offer their products directly to me, I almost always buy that. Think of herbs, lettuce, pumpkin or tropical fruits. But farming here is unpredictable and dependent on the season. We also have operational costs: the building, staff, etc. That is why we charge a percentage. I estimate around 20 percent, but it varies per product. Sometimes it is 5 or 10 percent. And with offers we sometimes offer the products for the cost price or lower. ”