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Progress report from the Ministry of Agriculture regarding the Banana Industry January – September 2012

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by Saboto Caesar – Minister of Agriculture Tue, Sept 25, 2012

We began the year 2012 with the Black Sigatoka disease continuing to affect our banana fields. This continued to hamper our production and exports. As a result, for the first 15 weeks of this year, we (through WINFRESH) were unable to ship bananas to the United Kingdom. However, WINFRESH was able to ship a minimal amount to the regional market. During these first 15 weeks, 7,825 cartons totaling 151 tonnes were exported to the regional market at a value of EC$105,642.{{more}}

After this 15-week period, we resumed shipment of bananas to the UK with effect from week 16 (week ending 21st April). Since resuming shipment, a total quantity of 27,765 cartons (527 tonnes), valued at EC$553,940 was exported from SVG by WINFRESH, as at week 37 (week ending 15th September). Of this amount, 25,785 cartons or 489 tonnes valued at $514,340 were exported to the UK, while the remaining 1,980 cartons (38 tonnes), valued at EC$39,600 went to the regional market.

The spraying operations are ongoing and the Ministry has increased the workload of the ground teams. Aerial spraying will resume in three weeks. An estimated $3.1 million was budgeted this year by the Government for this activity. Of this amount, approximately $2.5 million dollars have so far been expended. The expenditures covered the costs for both the aerial cycles and the ground crew operations and include operating and maintenance costs for the spray plane; fees for the pilot of the plane; consultancy fees for one person; materials and supplies; and labour and transport costs for the ground crew.

To further address the serious issue of the Black Sigatoka infestation, we embarked on two additional initiatives: firstly, “Operation Cut Back”, to destroy all fields that were affected by the disease; secondly, “Operation Plant Back”, using disease-free and disease-resistant plantlets. Both activities have brought tremendous success to our farmers.

Operation Cut Back

Operation Cut back began on the 15th of February this year. To date, 314 fields, totaling 529.25 acres, have been cut back. As a result of the cut back, the Cronshaw level now stands at 2.2, down from 7.9. This is extremely encouraging since our overall target was to reduce the cronshaw level to below 4.0. We will continue our efforts to sustain this Cronshaw level. However, Operation Cut Back will be suspended on November 1st, 2012. Farmers, during the next five weeks, are asked to inform the Ministry of areas spotted with Black Sigatoka and also to join the process of further controlling the disease.

Over $137,000 has so far been spent for Operation Cut Back activities since the process started in February. This amount covered the wages paid for workers (six gangs of an average of four persons each) and transportation costs (gas and oil for the vehicle). These workers at the Ministry have done excellent work. I would like to thank especially the head of the Banana Services Unit Mr Vanloo and his staff.

In addition to the cut back operations, we have received technical assistance from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in building capacity for the management and control of Black Sigatoka, University of the West Indies (UWI), CIRAD and several friendly governments.

Operation Plant Back

Operations Plant Back began in early June. To assist farmers in replanting their fields, the Government has been providing two sacks of fertilizer per acre for each farmer. To date, this input support to farmers amounted to $155,000. So far, 86 acres of bananas have been replanted. The largest acreages planted so far are in Colonarie/Byera with a combined total of 34 acres.

Some farmers, have already dug holes to replant their fields and now require plantlets. A total of 245,410 banana plantlets are required to be planted in these holes. Unfortunately, such demands by the farmers cannot be fully met at this time.

The Tissue Culture Laboratory at Orange Hill is to produce 120,000 plantlets for the year. These plantlets are produced every four to five weeks and are far insufficient to meet the demands of all the farmers.

We want to avoid any pitfalls with respect to meeting the demands of our farmers for planting materials. As a result, we are making arrangements to procure 270,000 banana plantlets out of Israel to meet the demands of farmers. A memorandum has already been sent to the Central Tenders Board, seeking its approval to procure these plantlets from Israel. In addition, negotiations are currently being made with the suppliers for special arrangements to ship the plantlets to this country.

We wish to take this opportunity to thank the banana farmers for sticking out with us during operations cutback. We are also being highly encouraged by the efforts of those who began the replanting process.

I wish our farmers all the very best, as we continue in our efforts to build a sustainable banana industry in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

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