KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace believes that the local banana industry –ravaged by natural disasters and diseases over the past three years — is on “death row”.
He said during one of his weekly radio appearance earlier this month that management of the sector should be returned to farmers.
He called for a repeal of the legislation that grants certain responsibilities to the sector to Cabinet.
“I know many people are afraid to speak out for many reasons. But the reality is that the industry is on death row and we cannot let it continue like that,” said Eustace, a banana farmer and economist.
“The chances of economic recovery hinges not only on the financial situation of the country but what is done about agriculture and particularly the banana industry as well as fisheries and the others.
“… Something positive has to be done rapidly if during this year we are to have meaningful export to the U.K. while we work on some of the other commodities,” he said.
This country this month shipped 1,935 boxes of bananas to the United Kingdom — in the first of three trail batches, after eight weeks without any export.
Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar’s said this month that the industry can return to significant levels of production by yearend.
“We cannot continue on that basis and I believe that the solution in that matter lies in repealing that law we now have on bananas.”
Eustace said that there are “good and competent” farmers who can take responsibility for the management of the industry, including the management institution and its board.
“And I think the whole thing needs to be looked at and put back in a state, which allows farmer-control of the industry.
“They are the people who feel it. It is all well to have a Cabinet go and make decisions. In the end, the people who feel it are the farmers and that spills off on the rest of us because it spills off on the rest of the economy.”
He said more farmers should press for the repeal of the current legislation.
“I don’t believe that the legislation is the most suitable and it is not working at the present time,” Eustace said.
He added: “When it is not working, we must change it. And I believe any such change … has to put the farmers at the front of the industry.
“They are the people who feel it. They are the ones taking the risks. They are the one spending their resources. They are the ones working and therefore they are the ones who must benefits and therefore take control over their lives. That is what it amounts to.”
Eustace said that the sector is critical to agriculture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and further stated that “something has to be done in the shortest possible time to put the industry back on its footing”.
He noted that the sector has been affected by black sigatoka since 2009.
“The question is, how far have we gone and what are doing about it,” he said as he asked about the frequency of spraying against the disease.
The government has launched “Operation Cut Back” which has felled 275 acres of abandoned fields, thereby reducing the level of infestation to 4, with zero representing total elimination of the disease — something experts say is almost impossible.
“I believe that the diversification of our agriculture should be done around bananas because there is a lot of infrastructure around bananas which other crops can benefit from and we have been saying this over and over again as a party.”
He said that the British supermarkets that buy Windward Island bananas are willing to purchase other agricultural commodities and through the joint-ventured investments in the U.K. can provide shipping, quality staff, port facilities, and ripening rooms.
“And I am saying a lot of that hinges on how fast we can bring back the banana industry,” he said.
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