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The black sigatoka disease has severely curtailed banana cultivation in st. Vincent. (internet photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – This country must now devise a programme to compensate banana farmers for losses because of the black sigatoka disease, says Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace.

Up to 96 per cent of Vincentian banana exported to the United Kingdom since June has been rejected because of premature ripening triggered by the disease, which has gone unchecked this year.

“What we have to do now is come up with a comprehensive programme for farmers for them to get back into business by compensating them for what they lost, so that they can carry on their business,” Eustace, a banana farmer said yesterday.

“We don’t have any real substitutes for bananas right now,” Eustace noted as he emphasised the importance of the crop to the Vincentian economy.

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Eustace said that agriculture officials failed to conduct aerial spraying to control the disease although funds were provided in the National Budget in January.

“That is why I have been talking about this all these weeks; because it is here in the estimates. … I want to hear what [the government is] going to do to compensate the banana farmers for what is happening,” he said.

Eustace noted that the Unity Labour Party administration “made a lot of noise” about his New Democratic Party’s response to the pink meal bug crisis in the 1990s.

“Look at this situation we have here now. Far worse than anything like that in terms of its impact on people’s income,” he said.

Eustace noted that while banana farmers replanted their fields after Hurricane Tomas last year the Ministry of Agriculture did not carry out the aerial spraying needed to control black sigatoka.

He further noted that he did not like the fact that the select committee that formulated the Banana Act gave the Ministry of Agriculture responsibility for disease control.

Back then, Eustace was worried about the Ministry getting the money for disease control and thought there were too many bodies involved in the management of the banana industry.

The former minister of finance asked how much money the country would make from bananas this year.

“Do you think it is easy for people to watch fruit with 14 hands and so on and just have to cut them down? It is not easy,” he said.

He further said he was “glad that the farmers came out to picket” the Ministry last week.

“I am glad that they have taken some action on their own,” Eustace said.

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