photo: Harriot Voncken

PHILIPSBURG – “A watermelon for 6 dollars? It can’t be found anywhere else on the island for that price”, is one of the remarks heard during the fruits and vegetables market of the Sint Maarten Consumers Coalition. 

It’s the second market that the consumers coalition organized and it was visited by hundreds of Sint Maarteners. “They are showing us that it is possible, good quality for an affordable price”, says a customer.

Fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs are relatively expensive on the island. Most of the food on Sint Maarten is imported, there’s not a lot of agriculture on the island. This mostly affects lower income individuals.

The consumers coalition who organizes the market likes to call itself an ‘anti-poverty platform’. It’s a collaboration between the Seniors and Pensioners Association and seven trade unions on Sint Maarten. Raymond Jessurun is one of the three founders of the coalition.

They are doing a trial run for three months: every two weeks they’ll import a container of fruits and vegetables from the Dominican Republic. They will sell the products at cost. Consumers do however have to register themselves first. Jessurun: “It’s not a proper market, we work with volunteers and don’t turn a profit. We’re bundling the purchasing power of our members.”

Health education is provided in cooperation with Collective Prevention Services. Jessurun: “We want to make people aware of high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes. A proper diet can help prevent or reverse those. But it has to be affordable.

The government publishes a comparison of prices between the supermarkets regularly. There’s also a price cap on certain essentials goods. But according to Jessurun it’s not enough. “There are a lot of families on Sint Maarten who have to make due with less than 4000 guilders – that’s 2222 dollars – per month, that’s not enough.”

Miguel Deweever, secretary general at the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport, and Telecommunications says that it’s a ‘good initiative’. But he doesn’t want to respond to questions about the (high) prices of fruits and vegetables and what the government is doing about them.

Supermarket price
Alex Tanhueco, manager of the fresh produce department at Carrefour doesn’t want to comment on the market and the consumer coalition. Regarding the question on whether or not the supermarket can lower its prices for fruits and vegetables, he says that they don’t only consider the cost price.

“We prioritize suppliers from Sint Maarten or the Dominican Republic for example. And if a small farm offers me its products, I’ll almost always buy them. Products such as herbs, lettuce, pumpkin, or tropical fruits. But agriculture here is unpredictable and seasonal. We also have to consider our operational costs: the building, employees, et cetera. We charge a percentage for that. I think it’s about 20 percent, but it varies per product. Sometimes it’s 5 or 10 percent. And when certain products are on sale we might even sell them at cost or at a loss.”