Port Vila City Council (PVCC) Mayor, Steve Kiel, expressed his sadness to the residents of Port Vila regarding the strike by the market vendors in the capital yesterday, emphasising the need for education to address their mindset.

He said one of the PVCC’s primary responsibilities is to provide food for the city’s residents and tourists. Although the Mayor assured the people of Port Vila that a resolution would be reached, he stressed the importance of educating the vendors about their approach.

“As far as I know, what they did was the final thing they could, according to what I heard this morning. Just last Friday, the usage of scales was launched, and today, on Monday, they went on strike. Everything has a process for us to follow. If you are not happy with something, there are processes you need to follow until the end. Striking is the resource that can be used at the end,” he said.

The market vendors at Port Vila Central Market went on strike in protest, believing that the introduction of scales would facilitate the eviction of small farmers and their replacement with commercial farmers.

Markson Niptik, who spoke on behalf of the market vendors, stated that while the government’s intention to introduce scales was not wrong, it should first assist farmers in reaching a commercial level before implementing the scales, which would make the farmers happier.

The strike by the market vendors was motivated by several factors. The first factor is that the farmers are not prepared to use scales, as they believe it is not the right time to implement them due to the ongoing recovery from recent tropical hurricanes.

Additionally, transportation costs pose a challenge, as the set cost of VT2,800 does not account for the varying distances each farmer has to travel to the market. This leads to a wide range of costs and sometimes prevents the farmers from making a profit on their products.

The farmers argued that while the government’s scale initiative is commendable, more time is needed to assist them in reaching a commercial level where they can produce larger quantities.

They highlighted the lack of access to tractors, which would enable them to operate at a higher level. Furthermore, some farmers have limited land for farming, making it impossible for them to engage in commercial farming. They request the government to establish land rental programs so that these farmers can access land for commercial purposes.

Niptik further drew attention to the challenges faced by female farmers who have become “widows” due to the seasonal work system, resulting in a lack of manpower and weakened farming systems. He questioned the government’s emphasis on building the private sector when many human resources have migrated to Australia and New Zealand for work.

Following the strike, the market vendors elected representatives who will present their concerns to the Minister of Internal Affairs.