On banana diseases, Minister sees light at tunnel’s end

Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar (File photo).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – While agriculture officials are “seeing the light” at the end of the tunnel regarding the impact of diseases on local banana cultivation, export of the fruit from this country continues to be low, with an average of 728 boxes exported each of the first seven weeks of this year.

And newly appointed Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar will today go into the field in solidarity with farmers and members of his staff who are engaged in a “massive cutback programme”, his ministry having identified about 350 acres of abandoned fields “which is definitely a significant source of inoculum”.

Caesar told Parliament on Tuesday that the Ministry of Agriculture on Monday began “Operation Cut Back” and will be adopting a “scientific approach” to correcting the situation, as the quality of fruit exported remains “low”.

Caesar, in response to a question from Member of Parliament for North Leeward and shadow minister for agriculture, Roland “Patel” Matthews, said that the situation with the banana sector is one of national importance.

The Unity Labour Party administration, Caesar said, is “working in the best possible way” along with non-governmental organisations and farmers to deal with the issues arising from “the devastating impact” of black signatoka that ran amok last year amid inaction by the Ministry of Agriculture, then headed by Montgomery Daniel.

“I just want farmers to rest assured that we are doing the best that we can with the resources that we have and that the light is at the end of the tunnel. We are seeing the light,” Caesar said.

He said that the quality of fruits exported regionally and extra-regionally during the last quarter of 2011 was “low” and the situation continued into the first seven weeks of 2012.

“The low quality is as a consequence of the moko and black sigatoka diseases and of course the traditional mechanical damage to the fruits during harvesting and transportation,” he said, emphasizing the contribution of mechanical damage.

“There has been no improvement in fruit quality so far in 2012. With respect to the quantity of bananas exported, there has been a steady decline,” he told lawmakers.

For each of the first seven weeks of this year, this country exported 1,393, 527, 1,035, 581, 960, 225, and 379 boxes of bananas each week, respectively, a total of 5,090 boxes.

“The reduction in the volumes, Mr. Speaker, … was foreseen since over 434 acres, or 303,800 … mature and bearing bananas [plants], affected by the disease, were cut back last October and November. … So it is a natural consequence that we will have a fall off in the quantities for export,” Caesar said.

He, however, said that the “general fall off in quantity” is not attributable to disease. “Because I don’t want persons who are attempting to be malicious, who would want to say that is it basically black sigatoka and moko that brought bananas to the situation where it is today,” Caesar said, while acknowledging that disease has had “a significant and devastating impact”.

He, however, noted the contribution of changes in European Union trade policy regarding importation of the fruit from the region in 1993, a ruling of the World Trade Union Dispute Panel, and the impact of Global Good Agricultural Practices protocols, which resulted in 1,200 Vincentians farmers leaving the industry.

“Therefore, the results that we are seeing are a culmination of those factors,” Caesar said as he noted also the impact of the drought and Hurricane Tomas in 2010 and the floods of April last year.

He also noted the presence of black sigatoka in St. Lucia and in Australia. “When the disease intensified in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, when you listened the news, when you followed the newspaper, many persons looked at the opportunity as a political opportunity.

“Instead of looking at the issue in a more scientific way, persons were calling for resignation here, resignations there and the general cut and thrust of politics really, I think, Mr. Speaker, got the better of many persons. But, Mr. Speaker, currently, the banana industry in St. Lucia is under significant threat,” Caesar said.

Farmers and opposition politicians, including Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace called on Daniel to resign as Minister of Agriculture as his ministry failed for four months to conduct aerial spraying against the disease although the Ministry of Finance had approved the funds.

“There is no Unity Labour Party in Australia. … The Honourable Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, he is not the prime minister of St. Lucia. … It is very important and it is very significant that every single banana farmer that we understand and appreciate the importance of the bananas which are sources of the inoculum,” Caesar said.

He added that some citizens have disease plants in their backyard gardens, thereby compounding the situation. “What happens next is that the government would be spending large amounts of money to conduct the spraying but if you do not do your individual parts, then it would definitely be an exercise in futility. Every single farmer, we have to ensure that we assist in the cutting back process and we work hand in hand.”

Caesar said that he has held consultations and meting with WINFRESH, WINFARM, and the National Fairtrade organisation and will soon meet with SVG Agro Producers. “Because this is something we definitely need a national effort if we are to control the spread of the disease,” Caesar further said, noting the importance of “proper farming practices”.

“I am putting the politics out of it and looking at the science of the disease,” Caesar further told lawmakers, as he announced that he had written to the University of the West Indies, Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute

and the Food and Agriculture Organisation for assistance in combating the disease.

“Because I think that the devastating impact that black sigatoka is having on the agricultural sector of the sub-region is sufficient enough for the Ministers of Agriculture in the sub-region to address this issues at the sub-regional level.”

He said that significant work would continue in the next six weeks as cutback and education on the disease continue.

Follow our FeedFollow on FacebookFollow on Twitter



4 thoughts on “On banana diseases, Minister sees light at tunnel’s end

  1. Caesar, if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel you must have tunnel vision, what a stupid statement on your behalf.

    The banana industry is destroyed commercially, because of the governments past inactions and failures. Such treatment and behaviour by the government is a criminal act, a disgrace.

    The farmers have been failed by this Marxist government, the very government led by Gonsalves that they supported.

    To correct the Sigatoka situation, you will need to cut down every banana tree on the island within two or three days of each other [going at it in areas at differing times, staged culling and cutting will not do] This includes all wild growing trees and those in private gardens. Then immediately remove those cut parts to an enclosed area and deep bury them in lime pits [this is a massive job which may prove insurmountable]. To leave them to dry somewhere will only foster future outbreaks of the disease. Not one tree must be left standing.
    As the new vegetation grows it should be sprayed with an anti-fungal mixture that is effective for every stage of the disease, such as Timerex Gold. Or buy 50 gallon drums of Tea Tree oil and mix it 50-50 with a light inert oil, then like Timerex Gold emulsified with water and aerial sprayed, and also manually sprayed. Timerex Gold is in fact basically a Tea Tree Oil mix. Useing anything else, including mixes of several different chemicals is a waste of time and will kill every living thing, in the air, soil and rivers. You will polute the fields for many generations to come.

    To control the disease it may be that all growing of banana trees should be put under strict ministry control and licence. Growing bananas in private gardens should be banned. When growing bananas in gardens you will never be able to control disease elsewhere. Disease is wind and bird spread.

    Tea Tree oil will not hurt or destroy wasps, bees, or man etc.

    Unless the government is willing to take the above measures everyone’s time is wasted, and the banana farmers can remain in the wilderness created by bad, inefficient, and an evil bankrupt government. Your present action is time and money wasted, worse of all cannot be effective in the longer term.

    Caesar, I have given you this information because I know that you are an intelligent man and will be able to grasp what I tell you. Its just a shame that you are mixed up with a load of Marxist scum.

    I am sure that you know that the Gonsalves boy will leapfrog your true destiny in politics, its whats called the ‘Dynasty Syndrome’.

    Posted by Peter | March 1, 2012, 10:26
  2. Peter I welcome you approach and must congratulate you on the advice you have given the minister. I wish the minister can form a group that includes people (like you) and others from all parties, to look at solutions to this disgraceful and detrimental banana and farming issue.
    I will further advise him, to visit every area and help farmers to form co-ops, to address their concerns. He should take the lead to unite the people for a common cause. This approach will show he is more concerned about SVG and not the dirty politics others bring to every issue, which divides our people.
    The good thing about this approach is that he doesn’t need money or cabinet approval to talk to the farmers. He must get out into the country to meet farmers. Find out what ails them and how he can help them to be better farmers, to produce the product and services we import from foreign nations.
    One more piece of advice: Go alone with your agricultural advisers and don’t take the representative of the area. This will indicate to people that there is no politics involved. He should let his people document all the pertinent data to review later for the best solutions.
    Well done Peter, try to keep these positive vibes going and don’t even mention Ralph’s name.

    Posted by Vere | March 1, 2012, 16:49
  3. Sorry Vere, but Gonsalves is the leader, he is ultimatly responible for everything that has happened. He should resign and get a good spraying with Timerex Gold, you know the rest.

    Posted by Peter | March 2, 2012, 12:06
  4. What shape is a Banana? So is the Government.

    Posted by Peter | March 4, 2012, 13:47

I-Witness News’ tweets


%d bloggers like this: