September 6, 2011
Eustace – Black Sigatoka, Gov’t fault

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace is blaming the flare up in the Black Sigatoka disease affecting bananas, on what he calls the incompetence of the Government of this country.{{more}}

Eustace, speaking on his party’s New Times radio programme yesterday, Monday, September 5, was responding to a front page article “SVG green gold floored again by Black Sigatoka”, which appeared in the Weekend SEARCHLIGHT of Friday, September 2.

Eustace said under law, the Ministry of Agriculture has responsibility for control of diseases like the Black Sigatoka, also known as leaf spot disease.

In the article carried in last Friday’s paper, Henry Keizer, General Manager of WINFARM Investments Ltd., said that if action is not taken soon, the banana industry could be in serious trouble, and stands to lose $60,000 a week.

Keizer said the disease first appeared in St. Vincent in 2009, and the Ministry of Agriculture had agreed to put a robust regime in place to control the disease.

Eustace said the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2011 detail the responsibilities of the Banana Services Unit in relation to an efficient leaf spot control programme. These include the mobilization of efficient ground crew, the application of at least six aerial spraying cycles for the year, and the implementation of an effective farm management programme for Black Sigatoka and Moko disease control.

However, the Leader of the Opposition said he had always had his reservations about the Ministry of Agriculture being given responsibility for disease control in bananas.

“When the new Banana Act was being discussed at Select Committee, I did not support. I felt there were too many institutions that had roles to play; that it would be cumbersome to manage the situation,” Eustace said.

Eustace, who is also a banana farmer, said he felt the responsibility for making sure the bananas are sprayed, should have been given to the Fairtrade organization, which also has responsibility for production.

“It takes cash to do this, and the government’s financial position is not a good one,” Eustace said.

He said although six spraying cycles were promised, only one was done.

“The fact is the government did not have the money to do the spraying!” he declared.

“The more I look at this, the more I see the incompetence of this Ralph Gonsalves administration. You have gone through all this exercise. You have put in money to rehabilitate the fields. You have put in fertilizer and given it to farmers, but you didn’t spray. So you gone back to square one, where you have to cut down bananas,” he added.

The Black Sigatoka disease triggers off premature ripening of the fruit. It cannot be eradicated, but according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, it can be controlled by the frequent application of fungicides, removal of affected leaves, good drainage and sufficient spacing to help fight the disease.

Eustace said he was informed that in one recent shipment of bananas, 96 per cent of the shipment was found to be contaminated. He said that this morning (September 5), he got an email which indicated that in another recent shipment, 100 per cent of the bananas from St. Vincent were rejected, because the bananas were ripening.

“That will make people take certain positions in relation to our bananas. Fruit quality is a serious matter. We have a lot of competition in the banana industry. We have the Latin Americans breathing down our neck and producing good quality fruit, trying

to get the tariffs they have to pay removed,” Eustace said.

“If the Ministry of Agriculture had done the work it is supposed to do in terms of spraying, we would not be in this position! I had concerns as to whether they would have the money available at the time that is needed to do the spraying.”

He said that is why he questioned the Ministry of Agriculture being given the role as described in the 2011 Estimates.

The Ministry of Agriculture, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT last week, said they are doing all they can in light of the recent flare up in the disease.

Chief Agricultural Officer Reuben Robertson said the oil needed to spray the bananas should arrive in the country this week, and promised that three spray cycles will be conducted by the end of the year. He said the Ministry also intends to cut back abandoned fields which serve as hosts to the spread of the disease.