18 years in banana for Abbott
March 31, 2006

18 years in banana for Abbott

In the early 60’s the banana industry of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was referred to as ‘green gold.’ During this period the multi-million dollar banana industry was controlled by men.

However, by the mid 90’s the leading export, banana, was on the decline and severely damaged by the World Trade Organization (WTO) rulings. A sharp decline in price and volume resulted. {{more}}

Nioka Abbott of Langley Park traded the pots and pans of a cooking career for banana production 18 years ago. She became one of a growing number of females to embark on an agricultural career after the decline of the industry.

She noted banana production is still vital to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ economy. It’s still the Number One export of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; it now has a Fair Trade marketing system. However, she noted, men are no longer at the front of banana production.

“The men became disgruntled and started leaving the industry after the prices dropped and market became saturated,” Abbott said. “We females realized that banana production was the livelihood of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We picked up where the male farmers left off because we knew we would be responsible for sustaining our incomes and our homes.”

Abbott, a mother of four, noted 60 per cent of St. Vincent farmers are females who are also caretakers in the home, mothers raising children and providing for the family. When she speaks of farming, she said, she is speaking of food security. Eighteen years ago, she took control of the family farm from her husband who still works with her. However, Abbott is responsible for harvesting, marketing and the business aspect of the farm.

Banana production is a year-round labour intensive activity. Banana farmers work six days a week on mountainous crop fields in tropical high temperatures. She noted, despite the labour intensive work, she enjoys farming, and, it’s been a very successful endeavor.

Female farmers in St. Vincent and Grenadines have played a major role in keeping the banana industry sustainable after the introduction of the WTO EUREP-GAP marketing system. A challenge that Abbott noted helped to bring about the decline of the ‘green gold’ banana days. There is now a Fair Trade system as an alterative to WTO.

“If you look at the statistics you will see there are more female Fair Trade EUREP-GAP certified farmers who are registered to sell bananas, than male farmers,” she said. “We female farmers are making business decisions, tending and harvesting the crops and bringing in an income.”

Abbott has been a Fair Trade farmer since 2001. She was the first female in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to ship under the Fair Trade label.

The basic principles of Fair Trade are quality production and a better deal for producers and consumers. Fair Trade producers agree to meet certain conditions such as using fewer chemicals in producing bananas and in turn receive a guaranteed price from the consumer and a premium for social, development and community projects such as schools, sports and child care.

Abbott is the Chairperson of Langley Park Fair Trade group. She is on the Board of Directors of the St. Vincent Banana Growers Association and she is the secretary of National Fair Trade Committee.