Our Readers' Opinions
December 17, 2010
How the Banana Association died


Editor: Political statements have been made by persons who should know better, especially Mr. Alston Porter, a former chairman of the Banana Association, blaming Renwick Rose and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, for killing the banana industry. Mr. Porter is shameless calling other persons’ names, blaming them for the demise in the banana industry.{{more}}

During the period 1995-1999, I was a member of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Banana Association board of directors and chairman of WINFA and have the experience and knowledge of what went on in the industry. Clearly, the mistake to address the industry’s problems was made at the policy level of the St. Vincent Banana Association. The chairman, Mr. Porter, did not understand the external environment or the changes going on in the industry, the gradual removal of the industry, and he was unable to advise the board on the matter relating to these changes.

Maybe Mr. Rose and I will have to take some blame for supporting Mr. Porter to have him elected as chairman of the Association. We believed that coming from a farming community, he would have understood the farmers’ needs to ensure justice and fair play on behalf of the farming community. I have long lived to regret this mistake.

I could remember at the first meeting of the Association board, there was the vote to elect a chairman. This vote tied and Mr. Porter visited WINFA office to have Mr. Rose help him at the next meeting, where he was elected as Chairman. My grandmother use to say “to see me and come live with me is two different things”. Those of us who have gone to the Association’s Annual General meetings and listened to Mr Porter would have seen a very good farmer, friendly person, with understanding of farmers needs.

Things changed when the European Union put in substantial sum of monies for the Industry under the Stabex Fund for the recovery of the banana industry to help us with computers. They also provided us with a computer to assist in the recovery, irrigation to help us improve yield per acre, and sheds to ensure improvement

of quality fruit to market millions of dollars. Check the records after all these monies were out in the industry in the 90s; by 2000, banana production had reduced instead of increased.

Our auditor indicated that the Association was spending too much money on traveling. When the record came out, it showed that I went to Barbados for an American Visa to travel to Ecuador and my name was there to receive a sum of money — the document was given to every director. I never went to Barbados for a Visa – I don’t know if Ralph and Renwick got any traveling money from Stabex Fund.

After the Association under Porter’s chairmanship decided to support a core farmer group of mostly large farmers and a few small ones, WINFA decided to engage those small farmers that most likely will be left out, in an alternative trade arrangements called Fairtrade. Most of the banana producing countries were already in the system and still are. We were told not to launch the core farmers. We never did.

From my understanding, it is the UK consumers and supermarkets that are buying larger quantities of Fairtrade bananas from outside the region and that dictate what they want. The Dominican Republic is selling large quantities of Fairtrade bananas. If we can’t produce it, our markets will go where they can get it to supply their customers. Mr. Rose has done his best for banana farmers in the Windward Islands. The people in St. Lucia know this, so do the farmers in Dominica. Only Porter and those like him do not recognize his work.

The Chairman of the Richland Park Fairtrade Group, Mr. Porter is maybe still holding documents on the replanting scheme, the shed improvement and Minutes of Board meetings of the Association. I am not defending Mr. Rose or the Prime Minister, but the statements are not factual. Renwick Rose and Ralph Gonsalves are not the killers of the Banana Industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Wilberforce Emanuel