Eustace says NDP will revive banana industry
November 26, 2013
Eustace says NDP will revive banana industry

Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Arnhim Eustace says that once the NDP is re-elected to government, one of their main objectives will be to revive the banana industry.{{more}}

Speaking on Sunday at the 37th annual convention of the party, held at Democrat House, Eustace said under the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP), agriculture in St Vincent and the Grenadines is “almost dead.”

He said in 2012, St Vincent and the Grenadines exported a mere EC$1.5 million worth of bananas.

“A totally disgraceful performance,” he said.

“No wonder our economy cannot grow,” Eustace added.

He further noted that this country, at its peak in the 1990s, in a single year, exported $111 million worth of bananas. In consecutive years, Eustace said St Vincent and the Grenadines exported $60 million and $50 million in banana exports, even after changes in the banana regime.

“As everyone knows, agriculture, including bananas, has been the backbone of our economy over the years. Bananas, which we have grown for over fifty years, once dominated our economy and our foreign exchange earnings.

“Banana farmers were able to employ people, give the best education to their children, were able to construct their own homes, buy vehicles, patronize small shops in their communities and the bigger businesses in Kingstown. The banana farmer became a solid part of the then emerging Vincentian middle class,” the NDP President said.

According to Eustace, the NDP policies of land distribution, giving land to the landless in places like Orange Hill and Lauders played a significant role in promoting agriculture and the importance of the farmer.

He explained that even with reduced preferential arrangements affecting banana production, the sector remained important to the Vincentian economy.

“It was dealt a death blow by the failure of the Prime Minister, Montgomery Daniel and Saboto Ceasar to properly respond to the black sigatoka disease, flood damage, and other challenges,” Eustace said.

The Opposition Leader, however, noted that the agriculture industry still does not have an effective programme for fighting black sigatoka, after two years, “and there is still no meaningful plan for subsidies and inputs and income support for the farmers.

“Our quality continues to decline and production continues to be almost non-existent. We are now almost totally dependent on transporting our competitor’s bananas from Santo Domingo. It has been a shockingly poor performance, causing hundreds of farmers to lose hope and become welfare recipients. What a shame!”

Eustace went on to state that the New Democratic Party can and will bring back the banana industry to a level of producing $50 million per year in banana exports.

He disclosed that they have developed a programme with all the necessary components to accomplish this, including a properly financed programme for the control of black sigatoka, some subsidies and income support and quality control.

“This should go a long way in restoring the dignity and pride of the farmer, as well as contributing to the stabilization of the Vincentian economy,” the Opposition Leader disclosed.

He explained that all areas of agriculture, including the fishing industry, need serious attention. And to tackle the situation, the NDP has been developing plans, he said.

“In the same agricultural sector, the Government is currently negotiating a loan agreement of approximately nine million Euros (EC$30 million) called the Banana Accompanying Measures.

This is aimed at providing 100 greenhouses, 25 in four different areas of the country, to produce other crops under greenhouse conditions. I was under the impression, given the name of the project, that there would have been significant funding in that project for rehabilitation of the banana industry, including spraying. But I now have grave doubts about the funding available for that purpose,” he added.

“The New Democratic Party on assuming office, will immediately meet with the Caribbean Development Bank to discuss a project for funding to revive the banana industry,” Eustace stated. (AA)