KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The local banana industry has been dealt another blow. Export of the fruit to the United Kingdom has been suspended with immediate effect.
Communications Consultant in the Office of the Prime Minister, Elson Crick confirmed the development on radio on Thursday, moments after Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said on another radio station that he had been informed of the ban.
“There is an issue. Banana quality has gone down. Exports have been suspended – I don’t know for how long – but the matter is being addressed behind the scenes,” Crick said.
“I suspect that at some time the Ministry of Agriculture will make a release … Until it is sorted out, I don’t know what is the hue and cry,” he added.
Crick said that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government “doesn’t ship banana” and noted that there are “ agencies set up for that”.
“They want to say it is the government’s fault why the banana shipment is suspended. The problem is that the farmers have been shipping poor fruit to England for some time.
“There is a report that comes on on radio, which tells you the quality of fruit which is being shipped, and St. Vincent’s fruit has been in the 60s (per cent) for a long time when it should be in the 80s and 90s.
“… Unless they are saying that [Agriculture Minister Montgomery] Daniel and the Prime Minister must put on some water boots and some overalls and go out to the banana fields and say to farmers ‘well listen, that is bad quality banana, that is good quality banana’, I really don’t understand what they are saying,” he added.
He was referring to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and agriculturalist Lenny Daisley who appeared on the radio programme where Eustace made the announcement.
“So when I hear them come on the radio and say there is no government and it is a black day for bananas, I mean, my blood is boiling. These men are too dishonest because Mr. Eustace is a banana farmer himself. He knows what is happening with bananas, he has all the details,” Crick added.
But while the government spokesman was unable to say for how long Vincentians bananas has been banned from the U.K. market, Eustace told his listeners that the suspension is not slated for review until next year.
“Sometime in the New Year, as I understand it, an assessment would be made of our situation here on the ground and a decision would be then taken as to when we will be able to ship again.
“I regard this as a very, very serious development. I am making the assumption that some discussions are on-going now with a view to preventing that but my understanding is that it takes effect immediately,” he added.
The development is the latest blow to the ailing banana industry, which was ravaged by Hurricane Tomas last year.
And even as farmers began to export fruit again this year, black sigatoka ran amok as agriculture officials failed to spray against the disease.
“This whole crisis has been brought upon the people and farmers of St. Vincent and the Grenadines because the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines did not live up to its obligation to spray the farms against black sigatoka during the course of this year,” Eustace said.
The development comes one month after Gonsalves announced EC$2.5 million in assistance to farmers, in an industry where earnings from the former “green gold” has dwindled from EC$120 million in 1992 to $20 million last year.