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Eustace: Put banana industry back into hands of farmers

Eustace: Put banana industry back into hands of farmers

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Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace has again called for a repeal of the Banana Act of 2009 and for control of the industry to be passed back to the farmers.{{more}}

Saying that the industry is on “death row”, Eustace said something should be done within the shortest possible time to put the industry back on its footing.

He was lamenting the state of the industry, even as Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT, expressed his joy at the resumption of exports of the fruit to the United Kingdom over the weekend (see related story).

“I believe that the farmers of this country should take control of the Board.

“Whatever board you want to call it, I am not concerned about the name. There are good and competent farmers out there, who can head the institutions and run the Board. I think the whole thing needs to be looked at and put back in a state, which allows farmer control of the industry. They are the people who feel it,” Eustace stated, as he spoke on the New Times programme on Nice Radio yesterday.

“I feel we should get rid of the existing Act and pass back ownership, meaningful ownership to the farmers of this country,” he said.

The Banana Act of 2009 made the way for the dissolution of the St Vincent Banana Growers’ Association (SVBGA) which had managed the local banana industry for several decades. The SVBGA was made up of banana farmers, who elected persons from among the membership to serve on the Board.

With the dissolution of the SVGBA, the Ministry of Agriculture set up a Banana Division to provide technical services to farmers. The Ministry was also given direct responsibility for the application and integration of a pest control system; implementation of the issuing of licenses, and management of the collection of a levy of $4 per box of bananas exported outside Europe.

“More farmers should press for this. I know people are afraid for different reasons to speak out. But the reality is, the industry is on death row and we cannot let it continue like that,” Eustace said.

He also made the point that the economic recovery of the country hinges a lot on the agriculture industry.

“Something positive has to be done rapidly; if during this year, we are to have back meaningful exports to the UK market, while we work on some of the other commodities,” he said.

“I don’t believe that the legislation is the most suitable and it is not working at the present time.

“I believe any such change has to put the farmers at the front of the industry,” Eustace said.

“They are the people who feel it, they are the ones taking the risk, they are the ones spending their resources, they are the ones working, and therefore they are the ones who must benefit and therefore take control over their lives.

“I am calling seriously this morning for a review of that whole situation, a review of that legislation to put the industry back into the hands of those who know most about it.”

The government should just faciliate the farmers, Eustace said.

“They (the government) have demonstrated a lot of incompetence around this industry, particularly in relation to that question of Black Sigatoka, and it must be fixed and fixed quickly,” he said.

Stating that the fortunes of the banana industry are critical to the economic dvelopment of the country, Eustace questioned the status of the Black Sigatoka spraying programme.

“What is happening to the spraying; is it really going on? how is it going?… Those things are critical now.” Eustace stated.

He acknowledged that he had heard that experts are being brought in to deal with the Black Sigatoka disease, but made the point that the disease has been here since 2009.

“The question is, how far have we gone and what are we doing about it?” he said.

“Is it going on, on a basis which is satisfactory? Not from what I am hearing from farmers,” Eustace said.

“I believe that the development of our agriculture, the diversification of our agriculture, should be done around bananas.

“There is a lot of infrastructure in bananas which other crops can benefit from and we have been saying this over and over again as a party. The same supermarkets in Britain that buy our bananas, they are willing to buy other commodities, and through the joint venture that we own with Fyffes, we are able to provide the shipping, quality staff; we have port facilities that we own 50 per cent of, we have ripening rooms, that we own 50 per cent of and so forth.

“A lot of that hinges on how fast we can bring back the banana industry,” Eustace, himself a banana farmer, stated.

“Out of eight shipments right up to the 16th of March, … only once did we send any bananas to England. I don’t know how many of them (the 180 cartons of bananas) even survived or were rejected … we cannot continue on that basis”.

Shipment of bananas to the United Kingdom resumed on Sunday, April 15 with 1,935 boxes of bananas being exported.

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