March 22, 2013
Banana Accompanying Measures – a few observations

Fri Mar 22, 2013

The agricultural sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been given a lifeline with the signing of a EC$35 million agreement between our Government and the European Union for investment in that sector.{{more}}

The agreement, signed on Tuesday by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and the EU’s Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jolita Butkeviciene, is under the provisions of the EU’s Banana Accompanying Measures, commonly referred to as BAM.

The signing and the provision of the funds could not be better news for our hard hit Vincentian farmers. Already rocked by the misfortunes of man-made and natural disasters, our farmers have, over the past few weeks, been forced to grapple with yet another setback, the onset of drought in the current dry season, one of the worst for several years.

The BAM provision affords a renewed opportunity for completely revamping the agricultural sector, which has been placed under tremendous pressure in recent years. It also opens the possibility of integrating agricultural production as one of the key elements of our country’s developmental thrust.

It is important to make a few observations, however. In the first place, whereas in the context of a small economy like ours, EC$35 million might seem quite large, it must be borne in mind that the sum is for a five-year period. Even in small SVG, $7 million a year is not enormous. That is why Prime Minister Gonsalves was correct in describing the BAM funds as being “a contribution” from the EU, albeit welcome, but one which must be supplemented by local investment. By and of itself, the BAM money cannot work the miracles as some seem to hope.

Secondly, the BAM itself has come about because of a series of actions taken by the European Commission, as a result of trade disputes within the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which have impacted very negatively on banana famers. Strong advocacy by Caribbean and African governments, farmers’ organisations and development institutions have forced compensatory concessions, such as the BAM. These have, however, taken a long time to materialize and are far from adequate to compensate for the scale of economic losses and social dislocations.

It is vital that this point be understood, so that those farmers directly affected, whose suffering triggered the BAM mechanism, be given the opportunity to be among the main beneficiaries, whether in the form of reinvestment or, should they so choose, diversified activities within the agricultural sector.

But it must be made clear to all that in the new, far more hostile global economic and trade environment, agricultural revitalisation can only succeed if we are to employ new methods. The old approaches of “statist” handouts and top-down approaches cannot work. One underlying premise is a fundamental one which we in the Caribbean are yet to master —the idea of a genuine public-private partnership. We have to demonstrate the political will and exercise the patience to make this work.

Given the trends in the European Union, the Caribbean is sure to fall ever lower on its list of priorities in the future. However just the causes espoused, the reality is that developmental assistance to our region is drying up. We cannot afford not to make maximum use of scarce resources however, in a manner that is sustainable and will be able to reinvigorate the vital agricultural sector. Linkages to the rest of the economy, building our food security safety net, protecting our environment, providing for the tangible involvement of youth in a new agricultural sector, are but some of the challenges which we must confront successfully.