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Recovering from Moko

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The presence of the Moko disease in St Vincent and the Grenadines was officially declared at a press conference on June 5, 2007, by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It was without delay that the Government established a broad based National Emergency Committee headed by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to advise and manage the implementation of a National Emergency Programme for the control and eradication of the Moko disease in bananas and plantains.{{more}}

The banana industry is of first importance to the survival of many families in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and particularly so in the rural districts of our country. Any set back in effective production and marketing of our bananas can present a host of problems for both those directly dependant on banana production for a living and the general population which benefits directly from bananas as a national income earner.

Many of our farmers were devastated when the pronouncement was made by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Honourable Montgomery Daniel, declaring that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was in fact infected with the bacteria that cause the Moko disease in bananas.

Many would have already seen the symptoms of the Moko disease in their fields, as the central leaves of the plants were breaking at a sharp angle while still green; in older plants the inner leaves first were turning yellow near the petiole, and eventually all leaves were bending and becoming extremely dried out. Obviously, fruit growth would have been significantly crippled once the infection occurred. For other farmers, they might have experienced their young banana fingers being deformed, turning black, and shriveling up. The conclusion is that the banana crop would have wilted, and, subsequently, each plant and entire fields of bananas experienced death.

Farmers quickly became aware of the other host crops that could be affected by the disease, including ginger, tomato, cocoa and plantain. Farmers were then advised to inspect their fields carefully on a weekly basis for symptoms of the conditions associated with the Moko disease, and all symptoms were to be reported to the Ministry of Agriculture and the location was to be marked. By this time, the entire farming community was thrown into pandemonium. There was a clear sense of panic. At the same time, the problem was being negatively politicized by some, while others were seeking solutions.

It was a welcome pronouncement when the Government announced that there was to be a comprehensive compensation package for farmers affected. The contribution made by the Taiwanese government assisted immensely and played an extremely critical role at a critical time. At this point, there were a number of farmers affected by the Moko disease who were very uncertain as to the direction forward. The Government, in further addressing the problem, made provisions to finance a comprehensive banana re-planting and rehabilitation programme, and in circumstances where a banana farmer’s crop was affected by the disease, it was encouraged that applications be made for new lands under the land bank programme.

In addition, it was strongly suggested that this may have been a prime time for many farmers to diversify as a means of branching out from the traditional farming activity of banana farming as a means of taking on a new income-generating enterprise but remaining within the agriculture sector.

Whilst making the decision to diversify is a highly individual choice, there are tremendous benefits of doing such, and they range from increased personal and family success, improved finances, greater efficiency in farming. However, one has to be faithful to the process, since it requires high levels of organising ability and personal drive, endurance, the ability to take some risk and being able to cope with the mental stress which may occur.

The fields are becoming greener for Christmas. It was ironic that by the middle of the hurricane season a large percentage of our bananas were already being devastated by factors other than the wind. The already challenging impact of Moko, however, became more pronounced on the banana industry when we experienced strong winds which also sought to destroy banana plants. This period which is quietly passing has proven to us that our farmers have within them the strength and courage to withstand the worst. The sense of resilience proven in their attitude to replant and rehabilitate their fields is evidence that our farmers are made of much sterner material than many persons will suggest at times. Many persons outside the farming community had anticipated doom’s day. It was a popular talk that the banana boat may have to sail pass St Vincent and the Grenadines since we may have experienced a total wipeout. It is true that no one can be certain as to what exactly the future holds, but there is always great pride in being optimistic. What we do know as a matter of certainty, however, is that so far, the prayers of the saints have been answered, the dedication of our farmers have brought new fruit and the intelligent workings of the government continues to bring great reward.

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