KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The black sigatoka disease and inefficient staff at the Ministry of Agriculture are just two of many challenges confronting the banana industry here.

Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel told Parliament on Thursday that the government is committed to controlling leaf spot disease, although it is expensive to do so.

He, however, noted “external challenges” to the sector, including the loss of preferential access to the European market.

“Farmers are now to ensure that there are certified, and in so doing, they have to ensure that they confirm to the global standards that are required,” Daniel added.

“Farmers have to produce the quality that is required, since globalisation has been at our doorstep today. Farmers have to compete,” Daniel further said.

He told legislators that quite recently 90 per cent of bananas from St. Vincent shipped to the United Kingdom were rejected at the ripening rooms because of quality concerns.

“I called a stakeholders meeting when I got that information. I took the decision to cut back on fruits where plants … have less than six leaves. Equally, Mr. Speaker, I had another stakeholders meeting in September to ensure that we can deal with the quality of bananas,” Daniel said as he detailed efforts to address the situation.

“And, so Mr. Speaker, having brought the stakeholders together, we came up with recommendations on the 20th of September. It was appalling to see that the representatives who were at that meeting, having agreed on the recommendations, found themselves demonstrating against the recommendations they would have put forward,” he said in reference to protest action that began last week and continued this week.

The Agriculture Minister said it was the policy of this government to continue to support the banana industry.

He reminded Parliament that in 1992, under the now opposition New Democratic Party, the banana industry had a surplus of EC$20 million. In 2001, when the Unity Labour Party came to office the banana industry was in a debt of EC$30 million.

“This administration paid immediately $20 million to ensure that the banana industry survives. Those are facts. And, further, in 2009, a further $17 million was paid to put the industry on a competitive basis,” he said.

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