Local banana industry on verge of death – Opposition Leader
October 30, 2012
Local banana industry on verge of death – Opposition Leader

The local banana industry is on the last rung and, unless action is taken now, the next step is closure, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said last week Monday.{{more}}

“… unless something is done immediately, this industry will die,” Eustace said on his New Democratic Party’s “New Times”, on NICE Radio.

“I have come reluctantly to that conclusion,” said Eustace, a banana farmer.

He said he is “not one to give up on these things, but despite all the talk about the so-called effort that was made over the last year or two, we seem to be going backwards.”

Eustace’s comments came as the industry struggles to recover, since 2010, from the effects of weather and diseases, compounded by the Ministry of Agriculture inaction last year.

For the first 15 weeks of this year, no bananas were shipped to the United Kingdom, while 151 tonnes, valued $105,642, were exported to the regional market, Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar said in a report last month.

Export to the United Kingdom resumed in April, and since then, 527 tonnes, valued EC$553,940, have been exported, 38 tonnes ($39,600) of which went to the regional market, Caesar further said.

But Eustace said Black Sigatoka is increasing again and very few farmers are exporting bananas.

The leaf spot disease, which causes premature ripening, ravaged cultivation last year, as then Minister of Agriculture Montgomery Daniel and his staff failed to spray against it.

“… our quality continues to be poor. And the price that we get for our bananas is not …” Eustace said.

“This is a country that reached up to 79,000 tonnes in a single year, earning … $111 million. That was our record. … Now we are talking about eight months, and we can’t earn $1 million.”

Eustace added that the nation’s food bill is growing in its consumption of foreign exchange, even as bananas have fallen from the pinnacle to the pit of the nation’s foreign exchange earners.

“The government has to allocate resources to the agricultural sector, including bananas, in a significant quantity, with a certain level of subsidy, if the industry is to come back,” said Eustace, who told reporters this month that his party’s research found that $40 million is needed to restore the sector.

“We cannot afford, we cannot afford — I repeat it: we cannot afford to lose this industry,” he further said on Monday.

Eustace said he did not understand why there was “no urgency in dealing with the matter.

“If you can find money for the airport, you must find money for bananas also,” he said of the $652 million project at Argyle.

He said while the banana industry suffers, people’s daily livelihood is being destroyed and the youth will have “no interest in joining something they see that [is] dying.

“I am calling on the Minister of Agriculture to put his money where his mouth is. We cannot afford to let the industry come any lower than it is now. We are at the bottom of the ladder, and the next step is to close it. And the effect of that is not going to be good on this country,” Eustace said.

Caesar told Parliament this month that 7,000 banana plantlets were expected to arrive from Israel this month.

Major replanting will take place in January and February and he was expecting, “all things being equal, … that the figures will be looking much better” by the last quarter of next year, he told legislators.

He urged farmers to “keep hope”, saying “we have come too far to turn back now” – an echo of one of his Unity Labour Party’s slogans from the 2010 general elections.

This country earned $20 million from banana in 2010 and Gonsalves challenged farmers last October to double output, noting that $4 million had been spent to fight Black Sigtoka. (kentonchance@searchlight.vc)