‘Banana is not dead!’ – Agriculture Minister

Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar (File photo).

KINGSTOWN. St. Vincent – The local banana industry might be on life support but it is definitely not dead, according to Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar.

Caesar said earlier this month that a concerted effort by agricultural officials and farmers could see the sector return to “high levels of production” by yearend.

Natural disasters and diseases have significantly affected the industry since 2009, with significant damage by black sigatoka — a leaf spot disease — last year.

The Ministry’s “Operation Cut Back” — aimed at minimalizing the impact of black sigatoka — has resulted in fruits being shipped to the United Kingdom this month — the first time in over eight weeks.

“… if all the farmers who own lands, can go into their fields from today, and start the clean up process, before the end of 2012, the banana industry will have significantly returned to high levels of production,” Caesar said on radio two weeks ago.

“There is definitely a future (for bananas). … Banana is not dead!” he reiterated.

He said the shipment of 1,935 boxes of bananas to the United Kingdom on April 15 was “significant evidence that Operation Cut Back has been a success”.

He, however, noted that the shipment was the first of three trial batches. “What we are doing is that we are testing the quality when they arrive in the U.K.”

In the wake of the diseases and disasters, some farmers did not strictly track the age of the fruits and packaged bananas of different levels of maturity in the same carton.

“We will have three trial shipments where we will come back to the table after every shipment and we will speak about issues of the quality and we will see where we go from there,” Caesar said.

He further stated that agriculture officials were pleased with the quality of fruit after the first shipment and that there was not much mechanical damage — bruising, etc. of fruits.

“We really commend a lot of the famers for really having the kind of courage. I mean, to walk into a banana field after Hurricane Tomas (in October 2010) and to start again and to continue after moko and the presence of the black sigatoka disease, it definitely took a lot of courage and a lot of cooperation and hard work from the government side …

“What I saw in the fields really, really brought a lot of joy to my heart to see the joy on the faces of the farmers who were cutting for the first shipment,” he said, of the harvest earlier this month.

Caesar said a farmer who had not shipped bananas to England since February told him of the impact of loss of income and was expecting to received between EC$800 and EC$1,000 for the 60 boxes of fruit she had harvested.

“And this is something that is going to significantly change the rural economy. The banana industry continues to play a vital role in the development of the rural economy and the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines …” said Caesar, a lawyer, who often says that he was educated with “banana money”.

He said an “extremely significant” number of fields were affected by black sigatoka, adding that the disease –which affects banana cultivation internationally — might have been unintentionally brought into the country.

“… that is what happens when we try to smuggle things in…” he said, adding that agricultural diseases smuggled into the country destroys the “life blood of the people” through a “devastating impact on the economy”.

As of mid-April, 275 acres of abandoned field were slashed, thereby reducing the level of infestation to 4, with zero representing total elimination of the disease — something experts say is almost impossible.

“So now we are at a stage where we can speak in the language of the banana recapitalisation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Caesar said but added that farmers must still await his ministry’s approval before replanting their fields.

“The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we are 100 per cent behind the fight of black sigatoka,” he said.

No farms in downtown Kingstown

But while Caesar thanked his staff, he said the workforce in Kingstown will be reduced to “a bare bones”.

“The workers at the Ministry, we have to work closer with the farmers,” said Caesar, who has donned rubber boots and used machete to help farmer fell affected plants.

“As I usually jest tongue in cheek from time to time, there is no large farm on Backstreet or Middle Street (in capital city Kingstown).

“There is no major farm there in Richmond Hill where we are but there are three headquarters: one in Wlliabou, one in Mesopotamia, and one in New Grounds,” he said.

He further said that he wants to enhance the staffing at these headquarters so that agricultural officials can work along with farmers “day by day”.

Caesar said the agricultural sector is the backbone of this country and, as minister, pledged “my full allegiance to continue to work with the farmers of this country”, adding some of his staff “will be showing little resistance”.

Read also: ‘Banana on death row!’ – Opposition leader

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8 thoughts on “‘Banana is not dead!’ – Agriculture Minister

  1. your predecessor shot banana in the head,he was trying to put it down

    Posted by Jahu | April 30, 2012, 12:30
  2. The banana is dead, and its dead because of ULP failure to deal with the disease early and properly. It will remain dead because no one in SVG currently knows how to deal with the disease. Money is being wasted by telling farmers to cut back. I have recently done a tour and can tell you that farmers are leaving the old trees and leaves that they cut, laying on the ground, this will re-contaminate the new growth, even one contaminated leaf creates a risk.

    The disease of Black Sigatoka is spread by birds, insects and the wind. We cannot kill all the birds, we cannot kill all the insects, nor do we want to, but we can remove old contaminated growth from the fields. The spoors of this deadly fungal infection [ Black Sigatoka, Mycosphaerella fijiensis] can travel for miles on the wind.
    Its not just Bananas that are affected by the disease, a number of other plants are also affected. Heliconia [flowering plant] which is grown in over 25% of all gardens on the island is also prone to the disease, and Ravenala madagascariensis, commonly known as Traveller’s Palm.
    I also suspect that coconut trees are affected, because I have noticed the sudden difference in fond color since the start of the outbreak.. That will need to be urgently investigated. Of course urgency is something that this government know nothing about.

    Unless all banana trees and certain other plants that are affected are all treated at the same time the re-contamination will continue its cycle.

    Look at it like this, you would not put a man who has a highly contagious disease in a hospital ward bed next to a man with a broken leg. You wouldn’t because the man with the broken leg would become infected with the highly contagious disease The man with the highly contagious disease would be isolated and the disease contained.

    All trees on the island need to be cut down at the same time, all that is cut down needs to be destroyed by burying or burning, every last leaf. Why cut them all down at the same time? Because contaminated trees still growing on neighboring land, or even several miles away, will re-contaminate the new growth.

    Another way of dealing with the destruction of contaminated plants if diseased plants cannot be removed from the plot and burnt, they should be cut up and piled up. Then tied down securely with black polythene sheeting., staked at the edges. This will prevent ascospores discharging effectively from the leaves in the pile. This should create enough heat whilst rotting takes place to destroy the spores.

    All wild trees, trees in private gardens, small non-plantation growers trees, need to be cut down and removed. All this needs to be done at the same time as those on the farms.

    This is a massive undertaking, I am sure its too big for a bankrupt government, the farmers will also need financial support for up to two years.

    Forget about trying to control the disease, its expensive and doesn’t work.

    Once new growth is underway Black Sigatoka can be chemically controlled on plantations, but the cost is substantial. Up to 36 spray cycles per year may be required for plantations growing dessert bananas for export and up to 19 cycles for commercial plantings of plantain.
    Timorex Gold is the only known chemical that can eradicate all stages of the spores, ultra expensive.

    I am told that the government are aware that the disease was introduced into the country by a windward coast flower grower, nurseryman flower exporter, who imported a certain type of Heliconia which was infected.


    There is no end of advice on the internet, most of it will work only on a temporary basis.

    There is a need to license banana growers and ban the growing of bananas without a Min of Ag., license. Total control is required.

    A ban should be put in place to stop the import of Musa [banana] plants and all other plants that can be affected by the disease. In fact it may be a good idea to ban all live plants and cut flowers for the time being.

    If this was Swine Fever or Foot and Mouth disease, a ban would be in place already, and stringent farm hygiene regulations applied.

    Unfortunately the Ministry of Agriculture is pretty inefficient, unable and unwilling to take advice.

    Posted by Peter | April 30, 2012, 15:41
  3. Banana is not dead! I agree. Who is dead? — Ralph, Saboto, Gomery, Girlyn, Stepheson, Julian, Pig Mouth are all living deads.

    Posted by L Sutton | May 1, 2012, 23:37
  4. L SUTTON, are you saying these people may be zombies?

    I never considered that before WOW, supposing that your right that could explain Gonsalves saying ” I only do Obeah for the Lord” .

    It could explain the smell of sulphur.

    Posted by Peter | May 2, 2012, 21:38

    Posted by Jason | May 3, 2012, 12:07
  6. Ah see that JASON has appointed himself, without comrade’s nepotism, as the mythical “PETER AT THE GATES OF HELL” ?! Quite a journey for the champion of the argonauts, traditionally believed to be a gg grandson of the man known as “Judah.”

    Posted by STEVE_ HUGGINS | May 4, 2012, 09:23
  7. STEVE-HUGGINS, JASON is just a semi literate fool, I ignore most of what he writes.

    JASON, its on record, its already written into history and its recorded in parliamentary records, Gonsalves said ” I only do Obeah for the Lord”. Well that can’t possibly be Lord Jesus, so it can only be the Lord of Darkness, Satan.
    ‘you very silly yard boy’


    Posted by Peter | May 4, 2012, 17:08

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