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Banana ‘an immediate fix’ to economic problems – Matthews

Banana ‘an immediate fix’ to economic problems – Matthews

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Bananas are seen by the New Democratic Party (NDP) as “an immediate fix” to the problem of economic development in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews, parliamentary representative for North Leeward and lead spokesman for the NDP on agriculture, said his party understands the important role agriculture has to play in this country’s development.{{more}}

Speaking on the New Times programme on Nice Radio on Tuesday, Matthews said the NDP has traversed the country, “especially in the agricultural zone”, and has held several consultations with farmers.

He said that from discussions with the farming communities, they have come to the conclusion that agriculture is very important to the Vincentian economy, “more specifically banana.”

“Now when we say banana,… it doesn’t mean that we are not focused in other areas, but we see banana as an immediate fix to our very serious problem of economic development. We say that, because you know, farmers would tell you when you start to reap banana, after that is just money coming in every week or two weeks, so we have our history; the farmers are experienced; it’s something that we are ready and prepared for,” Matthews stressed.

He questioned why is SVG not doing better in terms of the banana industry, seeing that this country has the human resources and available land.

Matthews said during the 17 years the NDP was in office, banana contributed 3.2 per cent to the gross domestic product, while during the ULP administration, the banana contribution to the GDP was only 0.1 per cent.

The agriculture spokesman said it is because SVG has benefitted tremendously from bananas why the NDP, in their quest to improve SVG’s economy and create employment are advocating going back to something we know.

“… Something we have benefitted from, something that we have the experience and banana immediately comes to mind.”

Matthews said his party also intends to introduce a development bank to facilitate loans for farmers and within the first year of getting into office, they will cultivate 1,000 acres of banana and make the industry lucrative once again.

As part of the revitalization plan, the NDP has also promised to provide 500 farmers with income support of $500 a month for six months.

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, who was also on the programme, said other countries like St Lucia (up to $21 million this year) and Dominica ($9 million this year) have been exporting millions of dollars in bananas and SVG has not been able to do the same.

Giving some figures, Eustace said that from 1984 to the period when the NDP left office in the first half of 2001, this country exported 1,242,598,000 kg (864,000 tonnes) of bananas, earning some $1,138,993,000 in that 17-year period. He said that the exports back then averaged 50,838 tonnes per year.

According to Eustace, from 2001 when the ULP took over to now, this country exported only 342,000 kg (9,000 tonnes) earning EC$291 million.

Eustace said that this country has allowed a lucrative industry to virtually die.

“It made $291 million in the 14-year period of the ULP and $1.13 billion in the period of the NDP. The ULP average production was 16,766 tonnes per year,” said Eustace.

“You see the vast difference? You see who allow banana to die?” the Opposition Leader quipped.

Speaking about the NDP’s food import bill, Eustace said that in the days of NDP, the country imported some EC$1.2 billion in food and exported EC$1.25 billion in food.

“We were exporting more than we were importing”, said Eustace, who revealed that for the last 14 years, the ULP exported EC$993,000 worth of food and imported EC$2,270,000,000 in food.

“You see the big difference?” he said.

“Through all their time, they were exporting less than they were importing. Through all the NDP time, we were importing less than we were exporting.”

“We need to revive the banana industry,” stressed Eustace, adding that the country also needs to focus on other crops.

Banana production in St Vincent reached a peak in the early 1990s. According to Banana Growers Association statistics, in 1990, this country exported 82,725 tns of bananas, earning $120.3 million. Since then, exports have been on a steady decline, falling to 54,112 tns ($66.1 million) in 1995; 33,887 tns ($49.5 million) in 2000; and 17,363 tns ($23.7 million) in 2005.

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