MONTEGO BAY, St James – Glendon Williams, a coconut and craft vendor in St James, says the fallout in business from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID 19) should be a wake-up call for Jamaica to favour agriculture over tourism as the country’s catalyst for economic growth and sustainable development.
“The Government of this country needs to go back to the drawing board and think about it, because it cannot work like this. We cannot have tourism as our main economy, because if America catches a cold, we have a flu. So, it impacts us big time when it is another country we are depending on,” argued Williams, who pointed to manufacturing and the exportation of agricultural produce as a means of creating a booming economy.
Tourism, the country’s star performer, has been brought to a halt as over 200 countries and territories around the world battle the coronavirus which has infected over 851,000 people, and has caused over 43,000 deaths worldwide.
In Jamaica, the fallout has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs and a slowdown in business amid a raft of measures implemented by Government to curb the spread of the deadly disease. So far, the country has confirmed 38 cases of COVID-19, which has claimed three lives.
Craft vendors across the island, most of who depend on tourism for survival, have long complained about slow business, but according to them, COVID-19 has made matters even worse.
Williams, who operates out of the Old Fort Craft and Heritage Park in Montego Bay, told the Jamaica Observer West on Tuesday, that due to the downturn in business, he has been giving away coconuts he was hoping to sell.
“I have two dozen coconuts and I have to now chop them out and give them away, bottle up some, and drink some, because I don’t want to leave them in the stall for them to spoil,” said Williams, who also owns a craft shop on the 156-shop property owned by the St James Municipal Corporation, located on Jimmy Cliff Boulevard.
It was a similar story on Tuesday for a female vendor at the nearby Harbour Street Craft and Culture Village located on Harbour Street in the resort city of Montego Bay, where fewer than 10 of the 254 shops owned by the St James Municipal Corporation, were opened.
“You have to call it, say almost 100 per cent of the shops are closed. We just come here and socialise. Maybe one day a week wi hook up and come downtown and just meet up. So, there is no business here,” the craft vendor stated.
The craft vendor’s argument was supported by her 54-year-old colleague, Errol Beckford, who has been operating in the village for more than four decades.
He stressed that vendors are badly in need of financial assistance.
He argued that prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, even though sales were sluggish, vendors had to be paying a monthly rental fee of $6,000 for each shop to the municipal corporation.
“Business was slow before, but now coronavirus come in, it’s worse. It’s worse on everybody, it is 43 years now mi in a it. Mi get 10 pickney out a it and still struggling, and now a the worst time mi ever experienced. So the people them need help. Not even we alone, everybody that is doing business. The people selling on the streets, everybody needs a helping hand right now,” he argued.
He however expressed gratitude to the government for its handling of the pandemic.
“I congratulate Andrew Holness [prime minister] and [Dr] Christopher Tufton [health and wellness minister] for all the work that them do. They are doing a very good job and if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where this thing would not reach because they acted so quickly, and this minister of tourism [Edmund Bartlett] too,” Beckford expressed.
The government has stated that it is providing a $25 billion stimulus package to cushion the fallout caused by COVID-19 on businesses and employees.
Beckford, like the scores of other craft vendors, are hoping that they will benefit from that initiative.
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