March 6, 2015
Winfresh and SLNFTO condemn protest action by farmers

Winfresh Limited (“Winfresh”) and the National Fairtrade Organisation (St Lucia) Inc. (“SLNFTO”) unreservedly condemn the protest action by a group of farmers, which was reported in the news broadcasts by DBS and HTS televisions, on Wednesday, February 25 2015.{{more}}

The protest, which was completely unjustifiable, was not authorized by the SLNFTO and did not represent the views of the majority of banana farmers in the Core Farmer Programme, who work closely with Winfresh and the SLNFTO to improve yield and product quality and who strive to adhere to the requirements of the programme.

In the news report, a “spokesperson” for the group alleged that Winfresh was “bullying” them and not buying all their bananas. This was a completely inaccurate and misguided claim and a misrepresentation of the situation. The fact of the matter is that many of those farmers do not comply fully with the requirements of the programme; they do not adhere to the disciplines and, as a result, produce substandard quality fruit which is unmarketable. (Samples of these may be seen in the accompanying photos). The claim of “bullying” by Winfresh is another way of saying the “farmers want to do what they want, how they want” without any control. This is clearly unacceptable and will have no place in the banana industry.

The “spokesperson” made a number of other claims, which we must refute or clarify:

1. That the farmers had “borrowed money” to improve their farms and now cannot sell their bananas.

What the spokesperson failed to say was that:

a) The loans were provided by Winfresh free of interest, through the SLNFTO, demonstrating Winfresh’s desire to assist farmers who are prepared to help themselves, by conforming to best practices, to improve the farm and farming conditions and to improve yield and product quality. Those were the objectives underlying the financial assistance provided by Winfresh.

b) Very little improvement, particularly by way of product quality, had been achieved by those protesting, who have demonstrated a complete lack of farm management discipline.

2. That the Core Farmer Programme is not working

We agree that the programme is not working as it should but that is largely due to the lack of discipline and non-conformance to the requirements of the programme by these very farmers. We recognise this and Winfresh and the SLNFTO are working closely to put measures in place to deal with the issues and to reinforce the programme to ensure that all farmers deliver in accordance with the requirements of the programme and the market.

3. That Winfresh is operating some kind of quota system when there was no such system in the market.

Winfresh has no quota system. The Company purchases bananas from the SLNFTO at fixed prices based on customer orders. These orders are characterized by both defined volumes and fruit quality specifications. The orders are allocated to the farmers by the SLNFTO who work more closely with them to ensure that they deliver according to the specifications.

Notwithstanding this kind of wild cat protest, Winfresh and the SLNFTO will continue to insist that all banana farmers be guided by the market realities of consistency of supply with respect to both volume and quality. This is the only route to stabilising and sustaining the banana industry in Saint Lucia.

Finally, Winfresh and SLNFTO are committed to:

a) Buying all bananas which are produced from banana farms complying with the conditions of the Core Farmer Programme and which meet the quality specifications and requirements of the market.

b) Assisting all farmers who are willing to be properly guided and prepared to adhere to the disciplines required to deliver in accordance with market requirements.