WIBDECO to preserve the quality of bananas
September 28, 2010
WIBDECO to preserve the quality of bananas

The possibility that a number of banana farmers may soon be out of work, is a reality that some may have to face, when a new structure is put in place by the Windward Islands Banana Development and Exporting Company (WIBDECO).{{more}}

Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Montgomery Daniel, at a press conference here on Wednesday, September 22, announced that a number of steps are to be taken to preserve the quality of bananas from the Windward Islands, ensure that quotas are met and contractual obligations kept.

Daniel, accompanied by Allan Alexander, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, and Chief Agricultural Officer Reuben Robertson, said that a special meeting will be convened between WIBDECO and other stakeholders to bring them up to date on problems faced by the industry. He said the proposed way forward will also be discussed.

He mentioned that from January 1, 2011, core groups for the production of bananas to the extra regional market will be established.

“…Of this core group of farmers, they are expected to harvest bananas on a weekly basis, and each farmer will have a minimum of 45 boxes (1 pallet) produced to sell to WINFRESH,” said the minister.

Daniel stated that this is a critical step for the industry if it is to move forward. This step seeks to address a problem where the cutting of bananas twice per month has been causing premature ripening.

He said that it was important to identify core groups of farmers for the production of bananas to this market since the banana industry should be treated as a business.

Farmers who do not meet the requirements and are not included in this group would still be allowed to produce the fruit for regional consumption.

“Secondly, the farmers will be selected for that core group based on a comprehensive survey which will be done for all farms: so that you can identify the farms that can give you the minimum that is expected for export,” said Daniel.

Daniel indicated that following the identification of farmers for the core group, a number of support mechanisms will be put in place by WINFRESH.These include the provision of field staff who will assist in developing annual programmes.

“They would also implement quality management programmes and they will assist in reorganizing farms to optimize their resources and to reduce unit cost,” he noted.

The minister also announced that WINFRESH will inject EC $2 million into the Windward Islands banana industry; St. Vincent and the Grenadines is to receive $540,000.

This will be placed at the Agriculture Input Warehouse where the farmers can access funds for rehabilitating and reorganizing their farms.

Daniel stressed that the need for these measures has arisen due to the poor quality of bananas being exported to the United Kingdom.

“For the year, the consistent quality of our bananas have been averaging around seventy five per cent on the United Kingdom market. The target is 90 percent,” said Daniel, adding “this is indeed terrible.”

“It costs, on average as lost to WIBDECO as a company, approximately EC $200,000 per week, and the company could lose up to EC$ 10.5 million this year,” as he spoke of losses due to poor quality.

The minister stated that quality issues that affect the produce when it arrives in the UK include “scruffiness”, “knife nicks”, mechanical damage and “ripe and turning”.

“This is creating tremendous problems for the sale of our bananas,” he noted.

Daniel reminded the press that earlier this year, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in its budget had allocated funds for a number of banana disease control programmes.

He also highlighted monies spent previously on providing farmers with assistance for battling the likes of Moko Disease, Black Sigatoka and leaf spots.

He called on farmers to ensure that their agricultural practices were on target to guarantee that the quality requirements of bananas for export are met, and that they are eligible for the

core group which will be supplying the extra regional market.

The minister hinted at the possibility that some farmers may not be in the banana producing industry after the restructuring takes place.

“We are in a democratic country where you make your own decisions; and we are in a competitive business of producing bananas. Once you can produce bananas and make a profit

I am sure you will want to remain in business,” he said.

“If you are not making money, why would you want to stay in that business?”