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Banana not a lost cause – Allen

Banana not a lost cause – Allen

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Despite the setbacks faced by the struggling banana industry, banana farmers are said to be in it for the long haul.{{more}}

So says Chairman of the National Fair Trade Organization Philemon Allen, who was speaking following a recent two-day consultation between banana stakeholders and officials of the Food and Agriculture Organization, on the fight against the black sigatoka Disease.

At the opening ceremony of the consultation on July 19, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Nathaniel Williams informed the gathering that the government subsidy to bananas is upwards of $5 million a year, most of which goes towards the spraying of fields, despite the more than $10 million loss registered last year alone.

As daunting as it may seem, Williams is of the view that there is still hope for the industry and farmers, who see the industry as not only an economic issue, but also a cultural one.

“From the point of view of the farmer, it’s a regular income. Other crops are seasonal crops, but banana brings in a weekly income. So, even though it may not be as viable as it was some years ago, the banana income acts as a regular income to carry on the operation and the seasonal crops are what they make the monies from. So, without the banana, the farmers will be depending on seasonal income, so you can understand the economical issue,” Williams told SEARCHLIGHT.

“Good farming practices could help in reducing the number of cycles we have, so while government is going ahead with spraying, we are looking at traditional ways and other methods can be utilized to make the spraying more effective,” he added.

These views were shared by Allen who said that the banana farmers are still believers in the banana industry, because it is ‘primarily still the best, and one of the most potent industries’ that farmers have here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“I can tell you that farmers are still adamant that this banana industry must go on. There are those who still have faith in the banana industry. I for one still have faith in the banana industry. I have been places where the banana sells and I know how much it is in demand, and when we get reports that our bananas are needed, it kind of gives the farmers a brighter light.

“Yes, we have challenges, but coming out of the consultation the experts explained one or two things that we can do to help lower the cost, and that is what we have been working on. All we need to do is have a good cultural practice on the fields where we reduce the level of the black sigatoka; we will do our de-leafing and we will stockpile the discarded leaves and if possible take them up and burn them. All these are issues to be done to eliminate the spreading of the spores.”

Allen pointed out that this country resumed the shipment of bananas earlier this year, the numbers have been getting more and more positive, despite early concerns about quality.

He said farmers should see better yields in the next two or three months, barring any issues with the weather, and even greater yields will be realized once ‘Operation Plant Back’ matures by early next year.

“All we need to do now is put our best foot forward in producing the best quality of bananas and get the production going and keep the management practices with black sigatoka,” Allen said.

“We are hoping that everything will pick up. So far for the period, we have sold 18,000 boxes of bananas and it is going up in the right direction. It is building gradually,” he added.

Allen said that the FAO officials heaped praises on the work done by the government and farmers in the fight against the black sigatoka disease, especially ‘Operation Cut Back’, and made recommendations that would help in the fight and reduce costs.

“Spraying alone cannot control the black sigatoka; it depends on the management practices on farms, and farmers have been responding very well to it, and we were graced with some good weather conditions in that we had a lot of sun and thing. Now we have the rains, we are on top of things; we are trying our best to get that practices in the fields.

“The consultants also said that we have to keep looking at natural means [of composting] and natural ingredients that can ward off disease,” Allen said.(JJ)

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