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NATION TALK 2

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Banana slips

It has been about 60 years now since the British government offered 3 gifts to British colonies in the Caribbean. They sent us a doctored dose of Westminster democracy, they issued an invitation for us to migrate and work and live as “British citizens in Britain”, and they encouraged the farmers to venture into banana production and its export to Britain. Political, Social and Economic gifts – a political economic package.{{more}}

The third gift – Bananas

While there was a war (WW2) around Europe, trade to Britain in Bananas and other products was cut. After the war and rehabilitation, the demand for bananas rose again and the British preferred to get bananas from countries with their currency. The Windward Islands became a ‘Preferential source’.

It seemed also to the British that a banana industry could make the island(s) more stable since other crops like sugar, arrowroot and cotton were on shaky ground. They wanted no more riots and discontents. In SVG, in the Windwards and in Britain, the industry developed well as these figures show:

The Growing Industry
Year tons Dollars
1954 37 56,600
1959 25,637 4,003,500
1974 23,049 17,702,000
1989 65,663 84,176,000
2010 8,900 13,700,000

In general, banana exports brought steady and at times increasing earnings into our country. The year 1992 saw $100 million (EC) earned by bananas, with 8,000 farmers approximately. Today the situation is dire. It is useful for us to note that during the 30 or so years of serious toil by our workers and farmers, other things were taking place. For one, the larger estates were driven out of large scale production. They couldn’t live on the profit margin that banana provided. They also disappeared from the banana boardroom. Simultaneously, rural people were migrating to Britain. The 20,000 Vincentians who went to Britain between 1950 and 1980 included many ambitious, dream building men and women from country. We will look at that demographic leakage next week DV, but another hidden blow was being struck, too. The company which brought into exporting our bananas in 1954 – Geest, made great strides based on the banana trade, as that it moved to become a public company offering its shares for people to buy in 1986. By then it was one of the 10 largest private companies in Britain.

The Growth of Geest

Annual

Turnover (pounds sterling)
1950 4,000,000
1970 68,000,000
1979 220,500,000
1986 421,100,000

The contract which Geest had with the Windward Islands associations allowed that company to charge all its costs to the industry before it calculated the bill that we had to pay. The 1986 turnover of Geest had a value of EC $2 billion. The Windwards received for our bananas EC $280 million, but what had Geest done in those 30 years?

On the seas by 1986, Geest had its own ships which exported banana and other goods and brought overseas goods into the region. Geest had its own ripening centres in Britain, a food wholesale company and a fleet of 350 trucks. In those 30 years (as Green Gold by R, Thompson and other put it), Geest grew by “minimizing risks and maximising profits”. Just like their brothers and sisters who migrated to Britain, Vincentian banana growers were helping to build Britain, its commercial infrastructure and food industry. Even when colonial rule was broken by our constitution in 1979, colonial profit from our economy continued.

The Windward Islands industry leaders were not ignorant about the effect of the Geest trade, and their story had not yet been told. Banana industry leaders had to wage two struggles. A struggle against the Geest PLC, and believe it or not, a struggle to win their own governments to their side of the game. You see, “Geest” played politics in the heads of our political leaders. They felt that the company could do no wrong. The industry leaders in WINBAN took a stand about 20 years ago to stop the old contract with Geest, to begin their own investment company in preparation for the Single European Market, and to take on other industry ventures. The result of these initiatives was that WIBDECO (now WINFRESH) was born. It bought the banana business from Geest, although the British government resisted it. It seems they didn’t want black colonials to step up and take their /our place in corporate London. That struggle is not yet over. WIBDECO/WINFRESH has been kidnapped by the governments of the Windward Islands. Industry leaders took over from Geest, but now surrender to Government. If the WINFARM (WINFA/FAIRTRADE) operation does not stand up strong for the Industry, the British will laugh, ours will smile, we will suffer.

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