Our Readers' Opinions
July 15, 2016
Open letter to Renwick Rose – WINFRESH agricultural drive

Dear Mr Renwick Rose,

I write publicly, because I wish the captioned subject to be discussed widely.

WINFRESH predecessor was WIBDECO, whose predecessor was WINBAN.

The Windward Islands Banana Growers Association (WINBAN) was formed in the late 1950’s by the banana farmers’ representatives of Grenada, St Vincent and Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica. It was not an official company, but enjoyed certain diplomatic privileges.{{more}} However, in the early 1990’s it was felt that with access to the United Kingdom (UK) in the European Union, a new entity was required. A new company, WINBAN INVESTMENTS, was formed with the four island associations being the shareholders.

The Prime Ministers at the time, being apprised of the new development, brought pressure to bear. There were meetings in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, St Lucia and St Kitts between WINBAN directors and the Prime Ministers. Eventually, WINBAN Investments Ltd was left to the Governments. A prominent local lawyer drew up the articles etc.

It was envisaged by the banana leaders at the time, that following the formation of WINBAN Investment Ltd, all the local Banana Associations would have been transformed into shareholding entities.

In St Lucia and Dominica, their Banana Associations were transformed, but not in St Vincent and the Grenadines. St Lucia and Dominica are still shipping bananas to the UK. Why is St Vincent and the Grenadines not doing the same?

A few years ago, I attended a symposium in St Lucia. It was organized by WIBDECO. The theme was the production and marketing of agricultural commodities. Many beautiful papers were presented

by many experts, including Mr Bernard Cornibert, my close friend. The papers dealt with markets, quality and logistics. The subliminal suggestion was that farmers should produce for WIBDECO (now WINFRESH).

In my simple way, I pointed out that today, farmers would not produce for any particular marketing agent (WINFRESH is a marketing agent) unless a) there is a minimum guaranteed price and b) the producers are substantial owners of the marketing agent.

I pointed out also that all the successful marketing agents were owned substantially by the producers. These producers were members of cooperatives or companies which own marketing arms (agents), ships, planes and even outlets in the consuming countries. For example, the kiwi fruit farmers of New Zealand, grape farmers of Chile, avocado farmers of Israel and the rice farmers of Guyana, just to name a few.

Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the retrograde step was taken to dissolve the St Vincent Banana Growers Association some years ago and banana producers sidelined. Now, no banana farmer knows how WINFRESH operates. Except that now we are hearing that WINFRESH wants “plantation bananas”.

Let us not forget that for years it was the “banana farmers” that financed the up keep of WINBAM (now WINFRESH). It was also the “banana farmers” that paid for the joint ventures that WINFRESH was engaged in.

Over the last 10 years, WINFRESH (WIBDECO) had made pronouncements of its intentions to market various agricultural commodities from St Vincent and the Grenadines – root crops, dry nuts, fruits and vegetables. None has been successful! Why? Because WINFRESH is seen as another alien entity, not owned or controlled by Vincentian producers. So no, or very few farmers produce for WINFRESH.

In the 1980’s when WINBAN was seemed to be operating on behalf of banana farmers, the St Vincent Banana Growers Association farmers met at the Teachers College Building Arnos Vale and strategized for the production of marketable quality bananas.

On both fronts – quantity and quality – targets were met, bananas were marketed not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

Having said all the above, let me say boldly, WINFRESH cannot, in its present disposition, “drive” any agricultural diversification anywhere.

Just as Armajaro got nowhere with cocoa, Minister Daniel got nowhere with farine, St Vincent got nowhere with arrowroot, Minister Caesar got nowhere with squash and broiler production, so too will Mr Cornibert get nowhere with bananas and it is rather unfortunate.

Therefore, I am somewhat surprised that you, Mr Rose, are singing WINFRESH praises. It is only when obstacles are NOT put in the way of producers, allowing them to organize themselves, employ management, own marketing agencies and ships and buy shares in outlets in the metropolitan countries, will there be proper development.

Of course, the state should play its part, in providing adequate infrastructure, roads and ports, fiscal incentives and diplomatic facilitation. However, in the meantime, intelligent and educated persons should get involved in the productive sector, instead of looking for jobs to “push paper”.

Hugh Stewart