June 11, 2004

Let’s get all hands on deck

This week, this country played host to perhaps the first International Conference on Bananas ever convened in the region. But the importance of this forum is not whether it was a first or whose initiative it may have been, but that it was held at all given the present hostile international trade environment. {{more}}
The demands being placed on the farmers of our region make banana farming an increasingly daunting task. The prices we have been receiving have been on the decrease with no sign of improving in any major way; certainly not back to the glory days of the 90s. The costs of inputs continue to spiral even as we are told we have to adhere to even more stringent standards, all which impact on costs.
This has led many amongst us to throw their hands up in defeat. But worse, there are those banana-experts-come lately who actively attempt to discourage farmers from continuing in this industry as they warm to their own predictions of doom. But is all lost and if so what should we do?
All the stakeholders in the banana industry accept that things are never going to be the same as before and have accepted that changes and more adjustments will have to be made. But banana farmers have continuously been making adjustments to their production’s practices. The changes have been forced on them rapidly and they have always responded with grace and dignity. The most marginal or inefficient of them have been forced out of the business. Many have turned to other crops as the high labour and other costs have become too much to bear.
But while the farmers have been making their adjustments to their farming and lifestyles, have the rest of our society been making similar adjustments? Oftentimes many live and indeed talk as though they are insulated from the problems the industry faces. We continue to embrace rampant consumerism as though there is no tomorrow. But this industry continues with its diminishing returns to keep the economies of these islands stable. It gives all our lives a measure of stability though we often do not stop to think about it. So adjust we all must.
This week’s meeting is one that must be commended for its pragmatic approach to the problems that confront the industry. We are faced with serious challenges, challenges that we can find solutions to by forging alliances with other people of conscience. We believe that there must be a way for us where our people can earn decent wages and live honourable lives.
We believe that our industry can continue to survive even as we continue to diversify our economies. We believe that creative marketing strategies will ensure that our fruit finds buyers not only in the United Kingdom, but right here in the region too. But no one person has all the answers and that’s why we commend the approach this week to get all hands and heads onboard. It’s a fight that belongs to all of us and losing is not an option.