KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – He is often characterised as soft and not suited for the rigours of partisan politics. But the “crime” committed against banana farmers with the mismanagement of the black sigatoka crisis, threatened Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace to lose his “bad, bad temper”.
After months of inaction, the government on Wednesday began spraying banana field overridden with the disease, even as farmers try to but back together an industry that was brought to its knees by Hurricane Tomas Last November.
“Sometimes, when I think of these thing you know, I lose my temper. People say I soft and so on. I have a bad, bad temper …. But I try to … control myself. But when you have this kind of mismanagement and people don’t want to admit it what [do] you expect? People suffer and suffer and their children suffer,” Eustace said on Tuesday in Marriaqua at an opposition New Democratic Party town hall meeting on bananas.
Eustace noted that he had for weeks been calling on farmers to take account of what was happening. “… the crisis we are facing in bananas is very, very serious indeed,” he said.
“How it is handled is going to make the difference as to whether we have an industry or we don’t have it. That is where we have reached,” he added.
Eustace, a banana farmer, said he was told that if the situation continued, bananas from this country would be sold in the United Kingdom “on consignment”.
“What that is going to mean is if you get them sell … you take out all the cost and whatever leave … get something. That means that you are not going to get any regular payment on which to depend on a week-to-week or fortnight-to-fortnight basis,” he further said.
“This thing is really annoying, I find it extremely annoying because I felt from the beginning, given how the finances were, that they (the Ministry of Agriculture) ain’t going have no money to do the spraying,” he said.
Eustace pointed out that the government found money to finance the “Vote Yes” campaign for the Constitution Referendum in 2009 but he said they did not do so to buy chemical to spray diseased banana trees.
Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel has said that although monies were released for his ministry since March, his staff did not complete the necessary paperwork to access it until July.
“I am predicating here tonight that because of this shortfall and the problems bananas have, this
country is not going to grow. It will be negative again. You have three years when the economy of this country didn’t grow,” said Eustace, an economist.
“Farmers have to be heard. And farmers themselves must do things,” Eustace further said, adding that he stayed away as farmers picketed the Ministry of Agriculture last Friday because “Ah don’t want it to be used as a political football.
“Ah want the farmers to get their compensation for the crime that has been committed against them by the Ministry of Agriculture,” he said.
“I want to close by saying to all of you here tonight. Use your head. … Think carefully about things that you hear. And, as for as bananas are concerned, you fight for your compensation. Otherwise, you would not be able to bring back this industry to any meaningful level because you don’t have the money to it now. You spent all your money since after election to try and build back. And now you have built back, you’re cutting back. So make your voices heard to ensure that you receive some compensation,” Eustace said.