Banana farmers on Friday protested the Ministry of Agriculture's response to the black sigatoka disease (Photo: Facebook).

NEW YORK, USA – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told Vincentians here that agriculture officials in Kingstown “dropped the ball” on the black sigatoka disease, which has ravaged the nation’s banana sector.

Chief Agricultural Officer Reuben Robertson told banana farmers on Tuesday that the oil required for the aerial spraying of their fields will arrive in St. Vincent tomorrow, having been delayed 12 days because of recent storms.

He, however, told disappointed farmers that all other systems were go — including the aircraft — for aerial spraying to commence when the oil arrives.

Black sigatoka is a leaf spot disease of banana that can cut a tree’s fruit production in half. The fungal disease causes dark leaf spots that eventually enlarge and coalesce, causing much of the leaf area to turn yellow and brown.

The oil is mixed with other fungicides to help to contain the leaf spot disease, which first appeared in St. Vincent in 2009.

“We are doing pretty okay in the recovery after [Hurricane] Tomas [last November],” Gonsalves said at the town hall meeting on Saturday.

He spoke of the cocoa project and EC$150 million in new projects to be executed over the next three years even as he acknowledged that the nations roads “are in terrible condition” and that EC$5 million was recently allocated to rad repairs.

“Some of the public servants in the agricultural sector dropped the ball on the issue of black sigatoka and should have ordered the materials – the oil – a little earlier. So we are suffering from the effects of the black sigatoka but we will triumph over it,” Gonsalves said.

Banana farmers on Friday picketed the Ministry of Agriculture in Kingstown and called for compensation for losses as a result of the disease.

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