Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (File photo).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — The government has announced EC$2.5 million in assistance to farmers as they recover from the outbreak of black sigatoka and natural disasters over the past year.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves detailed the assistance during a meeting with staff of the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday.

The aid includes EC$498,640, the fourth tranche of income support promised to farmers after Hurricane Tomas destroyed 98 per cent of the nation’s banana cultivation last November.

Farmers will also receive “further banana assistance” in the form of money and fertilizer in the wake of the Ministry of Agriculture’s slothful response to the black sigatoka crisis.

Livestock farmers would receive sheep and cattle to replaced those lost to the hurricane while other farmers, including citizens with backyard gardens, would receive seedlings, Gonsalves said.

“I don’t use the word compensation because, as a lawyer, I know compensation is a very complicated business, which requires certain legal obligations…” he told the agriculture officials.

“The farmers, when they were asking for compensation, I understand them. … I know bananas over the last 55 years…” the Prime Minister, however, said.

As part of the assistance, the Agriculture Input Warehouse will today make available 2,000 sacks of fertiliser, which, along with another 2,000 sacks to come at the end of the month, are valued EC$304,000.

“The package, which we are providing, is calculated at two sacks of the fertilizer NPK per acre,” Gonsalves explained.

He said 18 per cent — 405 of the 2,300 acres — of the nation’s bananas have been culled because of black sigatoka.

“It’s a significant amount but not so terrible as not to afford a recovery once you have a proper programme to recover,” Gonsalves said.

He said that Cabinet has decided, “to do $4 per bunch”, which translates to $3,000 for each acre of banana slashed because of the disease.

The Prime Minister said this is “a reasonable form of assistance” and is comparable to the figure used in St. Lucia “where forms of assistance have also been offered”.

The government will also give farmers EC$1,132,652 in “black sigatoka further assistance” even as they finalise the list of plantain farmers but anticipates paying EC$400,000 in assistance to them.

Gonsalves further said that 185,600 seedlings would be distributed over the next two weeks with a further EC$81,225 worth of seeds to be distributed sometime later.

“Things are challenging but never to challenging for this government or this prime minister to find money for the farmers,” said Gonsalves, who also said he is “not a magician”.

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