Vincentian bananas being loaded for export to the United Kingdom last November. This country is hoping to produce 20,000 tonnes of the fruit this year (Photo: Elson Crick, via Facebook)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell may have been “quite prophetic” with his comments about the local bananas industry, Deputy Prime Minister Girlyn Miguel said yesterday.

“I can remember like Sir James had said at one time, ‘when we would have fish in the Grenadines, you would have no banana’,” Miguel said of the Bequia-born agronomist Sir James, who was prime minister from 1984 to October 2000.

“Mr. Speaker, it was quite prophetic maybe. But it was a word of wisdom. It was a word in time,” Miguel, who is Minister of Education and a former agriculture minister, further said during the budget debate.

The Member of Parliament for Marriaqua, the nation’s “bread basket”, spoke of a bananas meeting in Ecuador where exporters of the fruits were told that the would have to diversify.

“And that was a profound statement for us,” she said.

Here comments came even as agriculture officials are hoping that this country can rise to the challenge and produce 20,000 tonnes of quality bananas, primarily for regional and extra-regional export.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in making the announcement during his budget address on Monday, said that achieving this goal would not be easy.

“This is a challenging target which the Ministry of Agriculture, including the Banana Services Unit (BSU), the Inputs Warehouse Company, WINFARM, WINFRESH, the farmers, and farm-workers must work assiduously to achieve,” he told Parliament.

Former prime minister, Sir James Mitchell, right, and Deputy Prime Minister Girlyn Miguel (Montage photo).

“From this modest base, we can seek consolidation and possible expansion. Each stakeholder group knows its responsibilities and obligations,” he said.

The Unity Labour Party government has this year budgeted EC$4.3 million for the BSU, EC$3.1 million of which is for materials and supplies to be applied mainly to treating and controlling the black sigatoka disease.

The disease ravaged banana cultivation last year amidst a failure by the Ministry of Agriculture to spray against it.

Gonsalves further said that the BSU is seeking to ensure Good Agricultural Practice certification for 900 banana farmers exporting to the U.K. market.

“The five dedicated professionals in the Unit can rely, too, on support from other workers in the Unit and from personnel in the Extension and Advisory Services of the Ministry, in which there are 24 professionals,” he said.

In addition to Hurricane Tomas in October 2010 and black sigatoka last year, the banana industry was also affected by the flash floods in the north-east of St. Vincent last April.

“As a consequence, the production and export of bananas and plantains fell markedly in 2011. By April – May 2012 it is expected that a modest level of production in bananas will be achieved,” Gonsalves said of the fruit once dubbed “green gold”.

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