“Why are we not going back to the UK as St. Lucia has done? When would we do so? If St. Lucia can go then so can we!”
That was the view of banana farmers who met Tuesday at the North Union Resource Centre to discuss issues affecting the industry.
It was the second such meeting for the year held by WINFA to discuss the problems, challenges, and prospects for improving the yields, quality and profits from growing banana.
After also a decade, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is yet to recommence exports of bananas to the United Kingdom, even as St. Lucia, whose sector was affected by some of the same challenges — natural disasters and disease — is exporting record amounts of the fruit to the United Kingdom.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the farmers mandated WINFA to take these questions to the highest level of the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to the Ministry of Agriculture, and to WINFRESH.
They also asked that all obstacles be removed and every effort be made to promote readiness for the exports to the UK.
Therefore, WINFA was mandated to request of the Ministry of Agriculture that farmers be allowed access to spraying equipment and supply of chemicals so that they can carry out the required frequency of spraying needed to bring the black sigatoka disease under control.
Black sigatoka is a disease that causes the leaves of the banana plants to wilt and the fruit to ripen prematurely.
Agriculture officials in SVG have been struggling since around 2010 to bring the disease under control.
The current system of relying on the ground spray team and aerial spraying is not working since it it not being done often enough to contain the spread of the disease, the farmers said.
They also asked WINFA to work with farmers to ensure that they are certified under Global GAP and Fair Trade System.
In preparation of this process, WINFA will continue its weekly visit to farms as part of its support and advisory services and to complement this with “Farmer For Farmer Training Programme”.
In this programme, farmers will train other farmers — under the supervision of WINFA technical team — on Fair Trade and Global GAPs farming practices.
The farmers’ mandate was reinforced when farmers, by acclamation, reaffirmed their commitment to WINFA and pledged to pay into WINFA, membership reapplication and subscription fees to support the association’s efforts as the farmers’ representative and leader.
“WINFA believes that by leading the farmers’ self-help approach with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, WINFRESH and its network partners in CLAC, it can lead our farmers to exporting Fair Trade and Global GAP certified bananas to the UK early in 2019,” the orgnaisation said in a statement.
Also at Tuesday’s meetings, farmers commended WINFA for the initiative as well as its leaders for their efforts in mobilising for the meeting and for its continued support and advisory service.
This work, they assured the association, is helping in managing the black sigatoka disease — that now threatens the industry — and is ensuring that they produce good quality banana for a small regional market which WINFA has provided.