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Windwards bananas ‘teetering on collapse’ – Winfresh CEO

Windwards bananas ‘teetering on collapse’ – Winfresh CEO


The chief executive officer (CEO) of WINFRESH is adamant that the future of Windward Islands bananas on the European market is unlikely to regain the dominance that it had in the past – and that this is not the fault of any government.{{more}}

In a recent interview with Tony Regisford of IKTV, Bernard Cornibert said that the Windward Islands banana industry is “teetering on collapse” because of its inability to cope in a “fully liberalized banana market in the European Union.”

“You had a banana industry that was fully protected in the market then… They had an industry that had a crutch; like a one-legged man walking on a crutch. And somebody pulled away that crutch… The crutch of the banana industry was the protection that it enjoyed in the market,” explained Cornibert.

“We need to understand that that crutch is no longer there – it cannot be put back… You have to compete fully and completely with all the players in the market.”

The WINFRESH CEO urged persons to understand that the banana industry cannot regain its former glory, because things have “moved on”.

“This has nothing to do with any government in any of the Windward Islands!”

He further explained that whereas in the past the Windward Islands bananas dominated the market, today, the industry is dominated by bananas coming from Ghana.

“They are producing far more bananas than we are producing in the entire Windward Islands.”

He also pointed out that bananas coming out from Ghana are not subjected to import tariffs in the UK and the rest of Europe, as are the bananas from the Windward Islands; and freight costs are lower coming from Ghana.

And in addition to this, Windward Islands bananas still have to compete with cheaper produce from Latin America.

“If you are Mr Supermarket, knowing that you are selling all of those bananas at the same price, which of them are you going to buy?” questioned Cornibert.

Responding to the question of whether he believes banana production in St Vincent and the Grenadines can be revived sufficiently to generate $50 million annually, Cornibert said: “Realistically, you can only do that if you reduce your cost of production by about 50 per cent. That’s the long and short of it.”

He also noted that with diseases such as Moko and Black Sigatoka, it would be very difficult to reduce production cost by that quantity, as well as maintain the banana yield per acre that is customary.

“Can it be done? I don’t know. I don’t want to put cold water on it and say you can’t do it. All I’m telling you is understand that it is far more challenging now than it was before.”

Using St Lucia as an example, Cornibert said that even though it is a popular belief that St Lucia’s banana industry is “thriving” again, this is not the case, and it should not be held as a beacon for the other Windward Islands to look to.

“They are struggling,” he insisted.

“Don’t forget that St Lucia, historically, has always accounted for about 50 per cent of the total Windward’s production… St Lucia had a much bigger industry than any of the islands.”

Cornibert revealed that, currently, WINFRESH receives fewer than 10,000 boxes of bananas for export from St Lucia per week – whereas in its heyday, the island exported approximately 130,000 boxes weekly.

“If you take the drop from St Lucia… compare that to St Vincent, I would say the drop in St Lucia is even worse.” (JSV)