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Bananas take centre-stage in Kingstown next week when this country hosts a major forum on the vital industry.
This meeting, an initiative of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, will bring farmers together with Prime Ministers of the other Windward Islands, Ministers of Agriculture, government and banana officials, to debate issues surrounding the sustainability of the industry.{{more}} Executives of banana marketing companies, British supermarket executives, representatives of farmers’ organizations and other civil society organizations in the Caribbean will also be among the participants.
The three-day International Conference on Bananas is aimed at forging a strategic consensus of the way forward for the banana industry in the Caribbean.
This forum comes at a critical time when the industry has been facing many challenges, not least among them falling fruit prices. The industry has suffered considerably in recent years and has seen, as a result, a marked reduction of the quantity of bananas being exported from the region and a falling off in the number of active farmers.
Today, there are still over 20,000 persons directly employed in the industry in the Windward Islands alone. Indirectly, tens of thousands depend on the export of fruit, which has been the engine of the economic growth in these islands.
The meetings begin next Tuesday with a wide-ranging agenda. Among the issues to be discussed are: the state of the banana industry in the Caribbean today; the Banana Marketing Regime of the European Union and the introduction of a flat tariff only arrangement; Alternative Strategies in the light of Fair Trade initiatives and other marketing issues.
This International Conference on Bananas kicks off next Tuesday at the Methodist Church Hall. This will be the first time that so many heads will be knocking together to devise a way forward for the banana industry, and Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves asked the Coordinator of the Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA) Renwick Rose to spearhead the arrangements.
Rose told Searchlight his expectations are that there will emerge “some element of an action plan. I do not just expect just talk, but how we prepare for the tariff-only situation in terms of what we do in the marketplace and what preparations we make on the ground for the new situation.”
And there will be enough authority at this forum. In attendance will be Prime Ministers Dr. Keith Mitchell of Grenada, Dr. Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia and Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, along with host Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who will deliver the feature address at the opening ceremony.
The British government will make its input through the local High Commissioner Terry Knight and his Barbados based counterpart, while the OECS Ambassador to Brussels George Bullen will fly in for the event. So too will former Ambassador to Brussels Edwin Laurent who will chair the deliberations and make a presentation to the forum.
Major Caribbean Banana companies will be represented by Bernard Cornibert, Chief Executive of the Windward Islands Banana Development and Exporting Co (WIBDECO), Marshall Hall from Jamaica Producers and CEO of the Belize Banana Producers Zaid Bullen while all the CEOs of the Windward Islands banana companies will be in attendance.
Gordon Myers of the Caribbean Banana Exporters Association and officials from organizations including the European Banana Network (EUROBAN), the Fair Trade Foundation of England, IICCA, CARDI and officials from importers of Windward bananas Waitrose Supermarket will also be in attendance.
But most importantly will be the attendance of many banana farmers themselves who are expected to play a pivotal role in helping to shape the way forward for the industry, which is their very livelihood.
The important conference will take the form of presentations, panel and group discussions before attempting on the final day on drafting a framework for the way forward.

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