September 9, 2011
Farmers: Disease is Ministry’s fault

Local banana farmers are echoing the concerns of industry officials and contemplating their futures as they take another hit, this time from the leaf spot disease Black Sigatoka.{{more}}

The farmers are pointing their collective fingers squarely at the Ministry of Agriculture for failing to deliver the promised pest and disease control treatments, which has caused the Black Sigatoka to spread.

Marriaqua resident Gideon Gilbert, whose farm is located in the valley, told SEARCHLIGHT that 70 per cent of his four acre farm has been destroyed by the disease, which could have been avoided had his field been sprayed.

Gilbert, who was at a meeting of the National Fair Trade Organization executive on Tuesday, September 6, said that he believes the system has failed them by not taking up their responsibility, and that farmers are being given the ‘run around’ by agriculture officials, leaving farmers in a quandary.

“Right now, I think most of the farmers are at a point where we don’t know if we are going to be able to continue in bananas.”

“The thing is, we invest so much money and time in it, and at the end of the day, you basically have to just chop back and destroy your field, because the bananas are riping on the trees even before they reach mature stage.”

“We’re even facing the problem of big international market standards, and if we can’t do that, given the situation in the regional market, it’s really bad for us,” Gilbert said.

A trustee on the board’s executive, Gilbert said that as far as he is aware, all banana farmers on the island are stricken by the Black Sigatoka.

Black Sigatoka, which was first discovered here in 2009, causes fruit yields to drop by 50 per cent or more.

The disease is more difficult to control than the Yellow Sigatoka disease, which had previously tormented the farmers and their crops, the farmers said.

Solomon Butler, another farmer and a member of the local Fair Trade board, noted that the latest setback is a serious threat to farmers and their survival, and that farmers are waiting on government officials to take the necessary steps to get the situation under control, before all is lost.

“We have families. We have bills. We are here wondering whether or not the government is willing to sustain us. They are not spraying as they should, and I don’t know how long we can wait… Families are going to suffer.”

“We could always diversify, but market possibilities are a problem.”

The farmers indicated that there is a feeling of resignation among the men and women in the industry, which Gilbert called the real backbone of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Gilbert agreed with Butler on the issue of diversification, and added he believes that the banana industry still has a place in the scheme of things, if only the farmers could only catch a break.

“The system is failing the farmers and somebody has to be held accountable,” he stated.

Meanwhile, a call to the Ministry of Agriculture revealed that an expected shipment of oil will arrive in the state next Wednesday.

The last aerial spraying of the fields, which has been deemed the best method of battling the disease, took place a couple of months ago.