St. Lucia’s Banana Blues

By Frank Girard
HBN, St. Lucia

Hardbeatnews, CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Thurs. Aug. 25, 2005: A noted political icon in Saint Lucia and President of the Saint Lucia Farmers Union is calling for a serious marriage between tourism and agriculture, if Caribbean economies are to survive the decline in banana revenues.

Peter Josie, the former banana minister on the island and a farmer of the fruit himself, told HBN recently that, “The problems of bananas were brought (upon) ourselves by the refusal to engage in agricultural diversification over the years.”

He urged for an examination into the development of by-products of bananas. Josie, who owns a small farm at Mahaut in the Micoud community on the east coast of the island, says farmers locally have lost confidence in the banana industry and there has been a mass exodus of farmers.

“Saint Lucian farmers are facing hard times and are busily seeking alternative jobs to feed their families,” he said, adding that there has not been any serious program of training and sensitization for farmers ever since the World Trade Organization voted against continued preferential treatment for banana producers in the Windward Islands.

Windward Islands Crop Insurance, an organization providing insurance coverage to banana farms against natural disasters, says in the 1980s, there were over 13,000 banana farmers in Saint Lucia. Presently, there are a mere 1,500 farmers.

Josie’s comments come as Saint Lucia prepares to host the EU-CARIFORUM meeting from September 29 – 30. And as a protest the Windward Islands Farmers Association, based in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, is advocating action.

WINFA has called on regional farmers not to lose hope, but to press their governments to intensify efforts within CARICOM and step up efforts for a negotiated settlement between Caribbean producers and other major suppliers to the European market, in preparation for the tariff-only system in 2008.

The local banana industry was recently privatized following government’s withdrawal from the former Saint Lucia Banana Growers Association and the liquidating of some 40-million-dollars in accumulated debt.

Subsequently, a number of private banana companies were formed to encourage mass production of bananas for export. However, the new system has seen several banana farmers experiencing difficulty in maintaining their farms. But the newly-appointed Windward Islands Banana Development and Exporting Company Chairman, Eustace Monrose, who is also the current chairman of the Saint Lucia Banana Corporation, one of the private banana companies, says that WIBDECO will now be streamlined for effectiveness and efficiency in preparation for the tariff-only system in 2008. –