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The never ending story of a Spanish greenhouse on the British Virgin Islands:

Spend $6 million on a greenhouse project, and leave it vacant....

Yes, projects often get delayed due to lack of funds, bureaucracy or other unexpected obstacles. But a multi million dollar greenhouse project on the British Virgin Islands takes the cake. Over the last decade, the gigantic Paraquita Bay greenhouse project has produced more news items and discussion than actual produce.

The history of the project goes back to as early as 2008, when a group of Spanish companies, under the name International Business Trade (IBT) and a greenhouse builder helped representatives of the BVI's Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources to examine the opportunities of greenhouse agriculture on the Island. A delegation visited several greenhouse operations in the Dominican Republic to review the technique and discuss possible crops. By that time, Omdar Hodge, the BVI's Minister for Natural Resources and Labour said that greenhouse agriculture would become the third pillar of the Virgin Islands’ economy.

And that third pillar had to be realized immediately; the local government was so impressed about the opportunities of greenhouse farming that it did not hesitated to award International Business Trade, LLC a $5.4 million contract for the development and construction of three large greenhouses on the Islands, located on Tortola'a Paraquita Bay. IBT and the greenhouse started with the construction of the project, but as soon as the greenhouses structures were installed it became quiet around the project.

It became so quiet that actual plants have never been placed inside the multi million dollar greenhouse project. It is not completely clear why, but we suspect that it must have had to do with troubles over the last payment of the project. The British Virgin Island's government was said to be a bit late with paying the last 1.26 million dollars to the greenhouse contractor.

The vacant greenhouses on Tortola, the largest island of the British Virgin Islands. Picture courtesy

For several years, the uncompleted greenhouse remained eerily vacant. In 2014 the parties came together and discussed the opportunities that IBT, as part of a new contract, would complete the construction of the three structures and become an owner of one of the three greenhouses. Of the remaining two greenhouses, one would have been released to local farmers and the third one was planned to be leased to private firms. IBT agreed to enter into the new contract with the National Democratic Party government if it (the government) fulfills its promise to pay the outstanding $1.26 million. And guess what?

They did pay the $1.26 million in December 2014. Well at least that is what the government said. This new government was ready to move ahead with the project and hoped to have the greenhouses up and running producing vegetables by the end of 2015. IBT was asked to perform a technical audit on the vacant structures. According to the IBT representatives, the structural framework of the greenhouses was found to be in excellent condition. Also the electrical system of the greenhouses appeared to be working, 'even though it still needed to be connected to the power grid'.

But in December 2015, there were still no crops inside the greenhouses. And there were no crops inside the greenhouses in December 2016 neither. Apparently the government overlooked the costs of buying starting material and all other kinds of equipment like substrates, seeds, crop twines and machinery, since last year they are looking for another $1.5 million in financing to start up the project. Deutsche Bank agreed to provide them with this loan.

Until this week, when it became clear that the bank has dropped the greenhouse fund, which according to the government, was needed to complete an outstanding payment of $1.5 million to IBT. As long as the local government has not paid this, it can not move forward with the project.

In the meantime, officials said that the government will have to replace the plastic covering of the three greenhouses. While already $6 million has been spent on the project they are lucky that they do not have to buy any more material for this; officials mentioned that the coverings would be replaced with three other covers  that were meant for greenhouses that were to be built on Virgin Gorda. 

We wonder what kind of state the project on Virgin Gorda must be in.

Publication date: 3/10/2017
Author: Boy de Nijs



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