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Farmers plan to resurrect bananas

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“We can produce 50,000 tons of export quality bananas per year, here in SVG”. That was the conviction of the farmers at a meeting held last week at Sans Souci. The farmers analyzed the state of the banana industry. They looked at the land in various localities. “The land is there”, they concluded. “The workforce is there, the climate is suitable except for the hurricanes that may come, but then bananas are not hard to replant and recover, and the demand for bananas overseas is growing”. We can do it, said Mr Hugh Stewart, an experienced agribusiness operator. He had presented a clear outline of the challenges that the industry faced.{{more}}

Then the farmers looked at other conditions that are not favourable to banana recovery, and what needs to be put in place. They noted that, as a priority, the black sigatoka fungus diseases must be consistently controlled, not in any irregular and ad hoc way, depending on any outside factors. “We need to have a pest control unit that we pay to do the work that we can sanction or sue if they don’t perform, and that will guarantee our banana fields have excellent and permanent control of the disease. Right now, if the disease gets away again, whom can we sue and get compensation?”

The farmers also calculated that a minimum of EC$20 million injection, with proper controls, would provide inputs that would suffice for the five to six thousand acres of banana to yield 50,000 tons of quality export fruit. The road network to farms too must be upgraded and maintained to support the industry, revive the confidence of farmers and financiers, and secure the quality of fruit produced. The relevant government agency must start work on the feeder roads and village roads programme with urgency. This is a necessary support to the regrowth of the banana- and agriculture-industry.

In this overall analysis of and proposal for the banana industry, farmers saw the need for prime quality extension research and other services from the Ministry of Agriculture to the banana industry.

Presently, the banana unit is expected to produce the top quality performance with the second level personnel in the Ministry. That is unfair to the unit, and inexplicable. The ministry must respect bananas and remedy that imbalance.

In the final analysis, the farmers found that to resurrect the banana industry, the management style in the industry must change. Two transformations must take place. The industry organization must be put on a BUSINESS footing. It must not be a charity, nor a voluntary organization, nor a government department. Business must be its business. Neither the SVBGA before it, nor WINFARM Inv now was/is allowed to develop this agribusiness culture.
 
They always look back over their shoulders at, and bow down to, others. Today, banana management must be firm with farmers and with all other stakeholders, including the Ministries of Agriculture and Finance. This means that “We as farmers have to lift our operations to a new level of seriousness, of honesty, of calculation and of vision. When bananas drove the economy in the past, many did not have this serious business intention. We fell. When we raise banana again, we must become a new kind of farmer, with a new kind of industry”. That is what the farmers resolved as they now reach out with this message to other farmers.

World Food Day, 2013

Oscar Allen

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