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Vincy bananas changing colours – What’s next?

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Fri, Dec 9. 2011

Editor: Through our fore-fathers, we have become involved in a multi-billion dollar global industry with one of the world’s most popular fruits – the banana. Over the last half-century, our nation benefited from what was then a lucrative business with this commodity, to the point where the fruit was referred to as “green gold”.{{more}} As the years progressed, keen observation has indicated that our banana industry has been going through a “metamorphosis of colours”, where its colours appear to reflect the level of prosperity of its stakeholders. Given this and the current challenges faced by the industry, one wonders what will be the way forward.

No one will question the significant contribution of “green gold” towards the socio-economic stability of the island – providing subsistence and supporting livelihoods, education and economic development of the Vincentian population. Unfortunately, things changed with the presence of Moko disease (cause by the bacterium Ralstonia, formerly Pseudomonas solanacearum). In this case, farmers have literally witnessed a change in the colour of their banana farms, from a dark rich green to bright yellow. However, the actions of banana stakeholders have aided in the control of this disease, but futile in the total control of this disease. Hence the steady decline in acreage and farmers’ income generated by the commodity continues.

To make matters worse, this colour changing activity continues with the fruit being attacked by the Black Sigatoka disease. The banana now changes colour and takes on a brownish appearance. One can now literally see across the country thousands of banana trees covered with brown leaf matter. If this island was experiencing a severe drought, there might have been forest fire on these banana farms!

Definitely, the presence of the Black Sigatoka disease has contributed significantly to the current adverse economic status of the farmers and, by extension, the banana industry. It is with vigilance and interest that this author waits to see what will be the next colour(s). Will it be dirt black or original green? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing of certainty is that as a nation, economic prosperity is indispensable. One of the many ways to achieve this is by bring back green gold – starting with the bottom up approach. We can only solve the problem by engaging and involving the farmers in more profound and instrumental ways. Research and development and strong entrepreneurial/ marketing outreach are also needed, but do not in and of themselves hold the key to a solution. Any proposed renewed approach should have a strong focus on marketing a value added product to the world, with a strong local associated industry support and development. Some of the local outstanding minds and thinkers should be used to guide, develop and produce products from the banana. As a small start, the development and marketing of sweetened banana chips and banana puree can provide the impetus for pursuing alternative livelihoods within a secondary industry framework. However, such an endeavor can only be achieved once a single prerequisite is met.

The industry needs to ensure that there are always mature healthy banana plants. We literally need to keep the bananas Green.

Neri James

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