Changes called for at Banana Conference
June 18, 2004

Changes called for at Banana Conference

Farmers here have been advised to work more closely together even as the region has committed itself to the continued production of bananas.
The advice came from Renwick Rose, coordinator of the International Conference on Bananas, which wrapped up three days of deliberation here last Thursday.{{more}}
A Summary Document, issued at the conclusion of the conference, addressed ten main Domestic and Marketing points to be addressed almost immediately, even as it recommitted the region to the continued production of the fruit which has been seeing dwindling fortunes under intense international competition.
The document formed the backdrop of pronouncements made by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Ambassador Edwin Laurent and Conference coordinator Renwick Rose at a media briefing called immediately after the final sessions wrapped up Thursday.
In relation to Domestic and Marketing issues the meeting came up with ten main points. They included, among other things, to “seek the minimization of costs and maximum efficiency at all stages of production, handling, transportation, ripening and wholesale distribution and address the “training and education of farmers to enable the modernization and greater efficiency and cost reduction of production.
But in a similar vein it also called for the “rationalization of functions between WIBDECO, BGAs and banana companies to eliminate duplication, minimize costs and promote efficiency.” This latter point must be seen as especially urgent, given the fact that the cost of production of our main competitors in Latin America is way below that of Caribbean banana producers.
Another issue addressed was the application of innovative production and marketing techniques including product differentiation. In that light, mention was made of conventional products, organics, which hold a niche market on the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe and fair trade.
Immediate farming concerns were covered directly in the call for “cost reduction through joint procurement of inputs and their provision to farmers on a timely basis.” In fact the Prime Minister has publicly chided the local Banana Input Warehouse here twice in the past two weeks for not having sufficient stocks of fertilizers when needed by farmers.
The meeting also accorded to establish mechanisms “to ensure that farmers understand and respond to market signals and requirements and to provide transparency that will improve the information flows” in the industry. At the same time there was a call for “greater utilization of the domestic tourist and regional market for bananas.
But the meeting, mindful of repeated cautions about the forum just being made “another talk shop” also accorded in its tenth point to establish “a technical task force to draw up detailed implementation plans” for all the ideas proposed at the conference.
But this meeting also included a heavy international component. It therefore agreed to the “immediate preparation of a comprehensive focused action oriented lobby and political awareness campaign aimed at bringing about a more informed and favourable attitude” to the interests of the Caribbean banana industry among decision in the European Union. In fact the Prime Minister promised that very soon there would be the appointment of a lobbyist to work on the ground in Europe.
There was also a clear call for the establishment of “alliances with like-minded or sympathetic interests willing to support a continuation of the current banana regime. The document referred to alliance between other Caricom states, the France overseas departments and other European suppliers, the ACP, Costa Rica and other Latin Americans, European Parliamentarians, the US Black Congresssional Caucus, NGOs and church organizations and the international labour movement.
The document also called for the “mobilization and enlistment of all required political, diplomatic, academic and other required resources” to the campaign for a favourable regime for Caribbean bananas.
The conference decided on several immediate actions. The first was to write to the EU President and Commission President, Heads of EU Governments, Caricom Heads and Presidents of the Dominican Republic, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, Ghana and the Secretary General of the ACP with a call for “the regulation of the EU market which provides fair and remunerative prices to growers and secured and adequately preferential access for vulnerable suppliers.
The second point calls for the “inserting in the ACP communique of the upcoming Heads of Government Summit of a call for the European Union to provide adequate safeguards and protection for ACP suppliers, particularly the most vulnerable.”
The third action point refers to the establishment of “an advisory team to support the Caricom Prime Ministerial Spokesman on bananas,” with “membership to be drawn from each Caricom banana exporting country, WIBDECO, WINFA, [the] Brussells Mission, CBEA, OECS and Caricom Secretariats and the labour movement.
Another action aims at the establishment of “an alliance of like-minded Latin American producers to secure a continuation of the current quota regime while the final point promises the preparation of a project for international funding of the campaign on” behalf of the region’s bananas.