November 26, 2013
Don’t make banana a political football

Tue Nov 26, 2013

Banana is rising once again to the top of the economic, social and, above all political agenda in the Caribbean banana-producing countries.{{more}}

It is a development reflected at the community level with varying views as to the measures to be employed to take the industry forward. Such has been the decline in the fortunes of the industry that it has become easy prey for politicking. Whether one understands the nature of the challenges facing the industry or not is of no importance, as long as one wishes to have a “go” at the industry, it seems as though there is free licence to talk, to write, to criticize, and to apportion blame. Solutions and sound proposals are far more difficult to advance, however.

In the two-party system of ours, one can easily predict the scenario, particularly as the country moves closer to that fleeting zenith of our political system, general elections. On the one hand, there is the governing party which, if truth be told, has employed considerable resources in support of the industry, beating its chest, praising what it has done and warning that another mandate should be given to them so that they can resuscitate the industry. Whether those resources have been deployed in the most effective manner and managed efficiently, is another story.

On the other hand, the Opposition, recognizing the hardship occasioned by the banana decline, and virtually “smelling blood,” is aggressively moving to lay all blame at the feet of the Unity Labour Party administration. Their line is simple and clear — no time for deep analysis, just point to what the banana industry was like under the former New Democratic Party administration, accuse the present one for failing to rescue it from the decline and promise a revival if returned to office.

Both strategies may strike responsive chords among voters, but they are no substitute for genuine dialogue and debate, based on an understanding of the global nature of the crisis in the banana industry and aimed at developing an appropriate strategy in line with the realities of the times. We have to go well beyond such simplistic analyses and populist, but unrealistic solutions.

Following the havoc caused by the changes in the European banana regime after the settlement of the EU vs US/Latin America trade dispute, the European Union has come up with a programme of assistance to ACP banana-producing countries whose preferential marketing access has been rolled back. This programme of assistance, the Banana Accompanying Measures, or BAM for short, is seen in some quarters as a mere sop to the affected countries.

One can agree or not, but what is even more important is how we use the BAM, what other complementary programmes are in place to support it and render it a more effective instrument, and importantly, how we co-relate the activities of supporting banana revival and reorganisation with a clear plan for diversification, around bananas.

Sadly, there is not enough awareness among the farming and general population about the objectives of the BAM, nor its perceived role in acting as a catalyst to rebuild and re-orient the agricultural industry as a whole. One would suggest that this shortcoming needs to be addressed immediately. Several other well-resourced programmes aimed at boosting agricultural production have fallen short of the mark for a variety of reasons. Have we learnt from these mistakes? Are we adopting an inclusive approach to BAM and other national programmes, as are absolutely required in today’s world?

This should involve genuine consultation and debate between Government and Opposition, not wild accusations and ill-conceived grand proposals. Naturally, the farming communities, their interests and desires should be at the very centre, balancing them with the realities of the world of today. We cannot afford for banana to be once more a political football. We have too much to lose as a nation.