KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The opposition New Democratic Party is close to finalising its proposals “to save the banana industry” here and will release it after Carnival.
“It is not a fly by night programme. It is going to take a significant amount of money and it has to have some income support for farmers. It also will require a lot of other activities,” Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said during his weekly radio programme on Monday.
The local banana industry entered a new phase of the tailspin when Hurricane Tomas destroyed almost 99 per cent of banana cultivation in 2010 and Ministry of Agriculture failed to spray against disease as the sector was recuperating last year.
Eustace said that the first draft of the document is being prepared with the intention of rehabilitating about 4,000 acres of fruit.
“That may sound [like] a lot to people but it really is not a lot of acres but it can help to put our industry back on some sort of footing,” said Eustace, a banana farmer.
“The figure that we see required for that is very significant indeed. I wont bother to give the figure here this morning,” he said and added that a smaller programme of 1,000 or 2,000 acres may have to be considered and gradually expanded over time.
“Because we can’t just sit by and let the industry die,” Eustace said.
“One of the biggest difficulties you are going to have in terms of raising money, … we are not going to get blamed for Hurricane Tomas … when we approach the donors. We are going to get blamed for not spraying the bananas, which is the government’s fault,” he said.
He further stated that this makes it more difficult to secure monies from donors.
“When a hurricane blows your way, it is a different matter you know, the donor has a different attitude, it is an act of God, you couldn’t control it. But when you are going to argue now you have to admit to the fact that you did not spray and that is going to affect the amount of money you are going to get for the project.”
Eustace said that the European Union might be the best option for seeking support for a banana revitalisation programme.
He, however, said “… part of the weakness of our position is that we, the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines through its minister and Ministry of Agriculture did not spray the bananas. You can’t present that as no argument of any strength.”
According to NDP estimates, the banana industry needs about EC$111 million — 960,000 sacks — in fertiliser for 4,000 acres of banana a year.
He said that the government’s core farmers programme only reaches 398.5 acres and has 144 farmers involved.
“I intend to support any programme that is going to help with the reintroduction of bananas. It is the only commodity where you are going to get a weekly or fortnightly income in the agricultural sector. And people have to live on that while they try and develop other commodities,” Eustace said.