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Switch bananas for ganja – Gonsalves

Switch bananas for ganja – Gonsalves


by George Alleyne

St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, has said that the legacy of the Caribbean banana industry is environmental destruction, and marijuana would have been a better crop.

He told a gathering of University of the West Indies professors and students that it is time to research ganja as a regional product, because some 50 years of commercial banana production left some islands disaster prone,{{more}} while weed has emerged as a viable commercial crop.

Gonsalves made this declaration Monday night during a feature address launching celebrations 40th anniversary celebrations of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, in the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination.

“I’m satisfied that the banana industry, despite its important historical contribution to several Caribbean economies, particularly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s has been the most environmentally degrading commercial agricultural crop since conquest and settlement.”

Gonsalves’ indictment of the mostly Windward Islands banana industry comes against a backdrop of the region long now losing preferential trade of the fruit in the UK and Europe, owing to World Trade Organization rules.

At the same time, the Vincentian leader noted that globally, especially in the United States and Europe, “the marijuana business is emerging from the shadow of illegality to a more enlightened decriminalization, particularly in respect of medical marijuana and small quantities of the herb for recreational and religious or sacramental use.”

The Prime Minister was mindful of the past economic contribution of banana exports, ‘green gold’.

“Everybody get a wall house, and they move from a Suzuki scooter to a motorcar. So, it increased the wealth…I have no quarrel with that.”

But he said people of the Caribbean should have an objective look at what happened to the environment as a consequence of bananas.

“In St Vincent, St Lucia, Dominica, for example, in the heyday of the market preferences in the United Kingdom, farmers cultivated bananas in substantial quantities, above the 1,000 foot contour, and in adjacent undulating valleys.

“The upshot of all this has been deforestation, erosion of the hills and valleys… it has been going on for nearly 50 years with bananas. So that, when the rains come and you have flooding, the land gets washed away into the river. Trees themselves get dug out. And they block up the rivers, mash up the bridges, destroy homes. And they kill people.”

Pointing to further destruction of the environment for which the region is famous, Gonsalves said, “The extensive spraying of the banana plants, the sleeving of the banana fruit with plastic, wanton misuse and because of pesticides and weedicides, have polluted streams and rivers, degraded the land and caused unwanted debris, including plastic, to be deposited on certain beaches and in the nearby seas.”

He said that though the region is yet to assess and research the sum total of this environmental degradation, it can be concluded, “ganja is no way as environmentally destructive as bananas.”

Calling for practical solutions to the environmental nightmare left in the wake of the banana trade, Gonsalves suggested that the Caribbean seek assistance from the countries to whom the bananas were sold.

“Europe, which purchased our bananas for decades, ought, reasonably within the context of the recently proclaimed sustainable development goals at the UN, to partner with us in implementing remedial measures to this environmental challenge.”

The Prime Minister acknowledged that he may not have overwhelming support in his homeland for a switch to marijuana cultivation.

“I am not saying that the majority of people in the country agree with that. But if you are leading, you can’t wait until the majority leads you; you have to see things. And you have to build the education and consensus to move forward.”

Meanwhile, he called for a collective Caribbean approach to studying the trade and other benefits of marijuana cultivation to the region.

“We have to have the studies. That is why I advocated the Carib­bean marijuana commission.

“In the changing global context of marijuana use, Caribbean economists and other relevant professionals, including those in the pharmaceutical industry, ought to be ahead of the curve in conducting relevant research, not rehearsing traversed territory.”

He said studies must point to a means of making the crop economically useful to the islands.

“I don’t want to see a book on ganja in the Caribbean that you just present the information which I could go on the Internet and just read. I want to see serious research about what is happening in the region with it.”