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We need word on Banana Extension Division of 2009

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Editor: Some data which record the genesis of the banana agony could be found in a document titled “Agricultural review 2009.” On page 16, under the item labelled 3.1.1. Bananas, it is stated “banana production and exports showed a marginal decline relative to 2008. The decrease was due to damage/loss of 327 acres of banana by the Moko disease.”{{more}}

On page 17, it says, “In order to streamline the banana subsector measures were implemented in collaboration with WINFA/FAIRTRADE SVG PRODUCERS INC and WINFRESH; the dissolution of the St. Vincent Banana Growers Ass “SVBGA” in June of 2009 at an estimated cost of $3 million, and the establishment of the Banana Division in the MARTFF (Ministry of Agriculture), with a comprehensive program for extension education of farmers, training for Global Gap certification and control of BANANA LEAF SPOT AND OTHER BANANA DISEASES.” – Throughout 2009 Moko disease continued to affect banana production, mainly in the areas of Colonarie, Park Hill, Greiggs and Richland Park and so farmers received $463,695 as compensation. BLACK SIGATOKA appeared for the first time in 2009.

On page 17, there is an item captioned “BANANA TRANSITION” under which reads “During the period 2008 to 2009 the banana subsector went through a period of transition. An act for the dissolution of the SVBGA and the establishment of a Banana industry was proclaimed on May 31st and the SVBGA closed its doors on June 30th 2009. The employees who were made redundant were paid severance in excess of EC $2.3 million. Government also had to take responsibility for the outstanding payables, the cost of the leaf spot control (chemicals, spray plane operations, ground crew) salaries and wages. An amount of EC$3 million was budgeted in the 2009 estimates to carry the cost.”

The question which must be answered now is how much has been spent on these items between 2009 and 2014?

The BANANA TRANSITION item continues “WINFA/FAIRTRADE, under the company Trade name WINFARM took over the responsibility for the handling of Grower Accounts management of the Fair Trade label, Advocacy and the Sales and Purchases agreement with WINFRESH. The Ministry of Agriculture etc, was given responsibility for the Banana Extension Division and leaf spot control. WINFRESH was given responsibilities for receiving and loading at the Internal Buying Depots, the Kingstown Reception Centre and the marketing of bananas in the United Kingdom.”

A programme for the operation of the Banana Division was established during the last quarter of 2009.

The evidence is overwhelming that the banana industry in St Vincent has not realized any progress since Dr Gonsalves and his team demolished the arrangement that had served the industry for several decades. While it is true that there was need for new approaches, considering the challenges which the culmination of the preferential marketing arrangement brought, banana still has the potential to play a significant ameliorating role in the economy of the land and the well-being of the people.

The members of those organizations which played a role in the destruction of the St Vincent Banana Growers Association, should feel duty-bound to exert themselves and use their influence to correct this injustice, for it is evident that while some ideas were committed to paper, as seen in the foregoing, there has been no identifiable serious effort in practice, aimed at making the banana industry successful over the last 14 years.

It is reasonable now to speculate that when the authorities spoke of the “transition” of the industry, what they really had in mind was the neutralizing of the democratic spirit by which the industry was grounded in the farmers.

This sad story of the banana industry in SVG is a good lesson for the next wave of citizens of the state. From now on, all the citizens must make themselves able to identify those factors which are impacting their lives and must resist aggressively, the machinations of miscreants who from time to time may come on the scene posing as honourable men, but are actually in pursuit of an agenda in which the interests of their citizens are expendable.

In the interest of the “conversation” that we ought to have, in dealing with the demise/revitalization of the banana industry, the names of those persons who functioned in those organizations which participated in the “transition” of the industry should be made available to the public at this time.

It is imperative, as we try to determine the way forward for agriculture generally in SVG, that there be a review and assessment of the programme for the operations of the Banana Extension Division, which was “developed established during the last quarter of 2009.” There may be lessons to be learned!

Leroy Providence