Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace, says the New Democratic Party has a plan to revive the banana industry.
The industry has been experiencing continual as a result of natural disasters and diseases over the past three years, in addition to the lingering impact of the loss of preferential access to the European market.
“Banana is almost dead,” Eustace told NDP supporters at the party’s 37th annual convention in Kingstown on Sunday, noting that this country only exported EC$1.5 million in bananas last year.
“It is disgraceful. No wonder our economy cannot grow,” said Eustace, who is also a banana farmer.
In the best year in the 1990s, this country exported EC$111 million in banana, Eustace said, adding that changes in the market had already begun.
Hurricane Tomas destroyed some 98 per cent of this country’s banana cultivation in October 2010. As the sector was making a comeback, Black Sigatoka ran amok as the Ministry of Agriculture failed to spray against the disease, which affects the leaves of the plants and causes the fruits to ripen prematurely.
“… we (NDP) have to have a programme and a project to deal with that and ensure that quality is good.
“But they (ULP) are not dealing with that. They tell you all kinds of things and they are putting the farmers on welfare.
“Just imagine that; banana farmers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have reached the point in this country where they are now on welfare.
“Banana has been the backbone of our economy and our foreign exchange earning. Banana farmers have been able to employ people, give the best education to their children, were able to construct their own homes, buy vehicles, patronise small shops in their communities and the bigger businesses in Kingstown. The banana farmer became a solid part of the then emerging middle class in St. Vincent,” Eustace said.
Eustace said that the NDP’s policy of giving land to the landless helped to empower banana farmers in the ways he mentioned.
He said that after the changes in market, banana exports generated EC$40 million to EC$60 million annually, but never the EC$1.5 million it earned last year.
“We really should be ashamed of the performance of our country under the Unity Labour Party,” he said.
He also criticised the ULP for failing to deal with the problems of this country exporting fish to the European Union market, a situation that developed under the NDP administration.
He said the way to deal with the situation is to remove the ULP from office.
“I hear all sorts of fancy talks about reparations and legalising marijuana and so on. I want to know what you are doing about banana and fishing. We can deal with the other things later on. People in St. Vincent need work and they need work now,” Eustace said.
The NDP conducted consultations with farmers two years ago. Eustace said subsequently that it would take about EC$40 million to revive the banana industry.