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From banana agribusiness culture

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When the American singer and movie star Harry Belafonte popularized the song: “Come Mr. Tallyman, tally me banana”, he was speaking for our banana farmers in the 1950’s. After a day in the hills, cutting banana bunches, the farmers would trudge to the village and line up with their fruits, wrapped in banana trash, at a village centre, waiting their turn while they chatted, limed, snacked, complained, bribed the supervisor (or vice versa), and then handed over their fruit which were treated with fungicide on the cut surfaces.{{more}} The bunches of fruit would then be rapped in foam, later to be packed on trucks and taken to the Kingstown docks.

The weary farmers would receive their pay, pay for their snacks and stroll off home. The bunches of fruit, for their part, would again have “headers” at the docks, loading the fruit onto boats called “lighters” which men would row and take to the banana boat anchored off shore, waiting to receive the bunches one by one, and to store in the ship’s holes. That is what we saw at harvest time 50 plus years ago in the SVG banana industry.

Today, the farmers cut, treat, package, code and brand their fruit. Our “Windwards” company pays for land and ocean transport and handles the fruit in Britain up to delivering the cartons of near ripe fruit to the supermarkets. While farmers received 5 cents per pound in the 1950’s, the earnings today are around 50 cents per pound. Of course the fertilizer cost the farmer 5 cent too for 1 pound in the 1950’s. Today it is 80 cents to 1 dollar per pound. Just imagine with me, if the banana company still bought the fresh banana bunches from the farmer, and then had to cut off the clusters, treat them, select and differentiate the fruit, pack them, weight them and do the finishing touches! Clearly, the money in the farmers pocket would be smaller – maybe 12 cents per pound. In the industry business, they have a name for you, if all you are selling is the crop fresh from the tree, or from in the ground. They call you a ‘low end ‘ stake holder who is at the low end of the value chain, getting the smallest piece of the money from the business.

Thank God and WINBAN and others that since the song of Harry Belafonte, farmers have been moving forward from the low end, small money part of the agriculture export business. We must not slip back to that Colonial kind of poverty. What we have to maintain is that we will make our agriculture become our agribusiness culture. We will stop doing agriculture and leave another class to do the business part of it. We farmers will move into the agribusiness class and culture. Let us look at some examples here in the Caribbean in the cocoa business.

TO COCOA AGRIBUSINESS CULTURE

In Jamaica, a group of cocoa farmers – the Jamaica Cocoa Farmers Association, JCFA – signed an agreement with the American Hershey Chocolate Company, to export the Jamaican fine cocoa straight to Hershey without going through any “middle man”. The JCFA is getting help from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve the fermentation and drying techniques that it is using. The JCFA is going to move up from producing and drying cocoa to shipping and selling to the ‘end users’ Hershey.

In Grenada, other cocoa growers are actually manufacturing their own brand of specialty chocolates for sale at home, in the Caribbean and overseas. They use ‘artisenal’ technology to make their exquisite brand of spice isle chocolate – and they are not alone. Isabel Brash was awarded ‘champion of the month’ in December 2010 by the Caribbean Innovation Network – RIE. What did she do? This is the report:

“After a learning journey to discover the scientific and technical process behind the manufacturing of high quality chocolate…’, Brash created premium chocolate products from cocoa beans and other local produce like fruit puree and ginger. Her products now received international praise.”

Eric Reid and his wife too, from 400 acres of cocoa in the Dominican Republic, market an acclaimed blend of chocolate second to none in the United States. (Some of the Reid chocolate and the Grenada chocolate may soon be in SVG).

The vision we must have is that cocoa is an agricultural crop, and it is also an agribusiness venture. We must see our culture as an agribusiness culture. We ourselves are an agribusiness culture community. We started it in banana and we will carry it forward into other crops.

But our first business is to come together and commit ourselves to a cocoa cultivation project. Already in SVG, I believe that we have more than 100 acres of cocoa in old and new fields. There is room for another 2,000 or 3,000 farmers to cultivate cocoa and make a long term, sustainable living. Of course, the market is big enough for a lot more growers, but we must leave room for other crops for fresh food and industry raw materials.

This year 2012 we could aim at 400 acres of new cocoa planting. What do we need? We need to clear and line out the land, we need to plant shade trees and intercrop plants, we need to secure 200,000 first grade cocoa plants in our nurseries; some lands will need contour drains to prevent rain wash away, and we will need to work together as farmers, and workers, and government, and overseas agencies and companies. Come together, farmers of SVG, this thing is in our hands.

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