Posted on

Farmers taking the lead


I was deeply moved last Friday evening at a ceremony organized by the Langley Park Fairtrade Farmers Group, held at the LESCO (Langley Park Educational and Social Organisation) building in the area. Not only ‘moved” but surprised as well, for virtually behind my back, the group had organized an evening of activities aimed at honouring – ME! The honouring process is a fairly recent, but welcome, development in our country and region, breaking with past traditional approaches of paying tribute after death.{{more}} It is one I support, save for the fact that on a personal level, I am uncomfortable to be the recipient of any such honour. That level of discomfort spared me on previous occasions where such tribute was paid to me, for I was unavoidably away on business.

This time however, there was no escape from the emotion which was all the stronger because the honour was coming from the humble farmers themselves and from a Group which was one of the pioneers of the fair-trade movement in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The Langley Park Group was among the first to jump into the Fairtrade stream when many others were skeptical or even downright hostile. Today Fairtrade is a proven success and the farmers can be very proud of the foundation that they themselves have built.

It is easy to miss other significant and relevant issues arising from the Langley Park initiative. One such is the development of the farmers and their group and their growing sense of confidence and awareness. These are reflected in their decision not just to hold this activity but to situate it within the context of National Heroes Day. It shows that our farmers are grasping an appreciation of their historical and social circumstances. That development of our human resource base in the agricultural industry is one of the biggest benefits of fair-trade.

The fair-trade movement in the Windward Islands is now set to move up another notch. WINFA, the umbrella body uniting the more than 3300 registered Fair trade farmers organized in 46 groups (like Langley Park) in Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, is set to sign a Sales and Purchases Agreement with the banana exporting company, WIBDECO. This will for the first time place the producers’ organization in the driving seat in industry. No more will Fairtrade be seen as some poor relations in the banana industry.

It means a greater opportunity to reorganize and streamline the industry, to bargain for better arrangements for farmers and, above all, to demonstrate that stakeholders involvement can redound to the benefit of all. But it is not as simple as that. There are those, accustomed to riding roughshod over the farmers, those that, ensconced in private banana companies subsidized either by WIBDECO, governments or farmers money, will not lightly give up their privileges. Already, in both Dominica and St Lucia, they are on the loose, hurling lies and slander left and right, distorting the truth and pouring scorn on the proud record of WINFA and the National Fairtrade organizations. They are even trying to encourage some local farmers in SVG to sow discord within the industry in a vain attempt to divide and preserve the status quo.

The signing of the Sales and Purchases Agreement to make the banana export chain Fairtrade compliant is a necessity of the changing times. It is Fair-trade which is the dynamic and rapidly growing sector of the banana export market, that has proven to be the saviour of the industry. Its lasting memorials are in the banana farming communities, unlike all the companies and associations which preceded WINFA in the banana industry-from GEEST to the present. Instead of tilting at windmills, maligning WIBDECO and fighting WINFA, we should be working together to boost production and productivity, to combat waste and corruption and to expand and develop markets.

Those who try to sow division and create enmity are the worst enemies, not just of our farmers, but of development in the Windward Islands. In the modern world, entire sectors – in commerce, trade, aviation, manufacturing, tourism etc -have had to face the challenges of the times, to restructure, retool and re-energize. It is no different in banana, nor in agriculture for that matter. Placing the farmers at the heart of the process is central to the exercise.

After the Crucifixion comes the Resurrection.