A banana farm in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (IWN photo)

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that any person or entity promising to return the banana industry to the dominance it enjoyed three decades ago is talking “foolishness”.

“People who are telling you that they will take St. Vincent and the Grenadines back to the heyday of bananas, as it was in the 1990s, the farming community know they’re taking foolishness, they know they are talking foolishness. But what happened is this: John Compton won with that against Kenny Anthony in 2006-2007…” he told a press conference in Kingstown on Thursday.

“Can John Compton reverse World Trade Organisation? Can he reverse trade liberalisation? It is just a lot of foolishness,” Gonsalves said, referring to the late St. Lucian prime minister.

The prime minister said the preferences that Windward Islands’ bananas enjoyed in the 1990s have all been eliminated.

“A banana, a finger of banana in the market here is more expensive than a finger of banana in Sainsbury or Asda supermarket in London,” he said.

Bananas cheaper in England than SVG

A person buying a finger of banana in Kingstown can pay as much as EC$0.50 for it.

“So you have to subsidise the bananas if you want to grow them. You have to subsidise there in England, but that ain’t happening, because the subsidies are cut out or you have to subsidise them here.”

Gonsalves said his government is subsidising banana cultivation because it is putting in cheaper inputs and dealing with the spraying of black sigatoka disease.

“But I tell you, if you have to subsidise it to the extent that is required to compete in the British market, you will bankrupt the place. And it’s not sustainable.”

He said that Jamaica, Belize, Dominica and Grenada had found this out and St. Lucia is coming to that realisation.

“and you get a lot of foolishness talk to you about what is happening in St. Lucia,” Gonsalves said.

He was speaking two weeks after Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday used the 40th convention of his New Democratic Party to promise farmers that help is on the way.

Friday said that in 2000, before Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party came to power, the banana industry was operated and managed by Vincentian farmers and banana exports contributed EC$28 million dollars to the nation’s GDP.

He said the industry’s contribution has declined to less than EC$1 million annually.

“It did not have to be that way.  Look at St. Lucia, where the management of the banana industry remained in the hands of farmers and the industry is growing and doing well,” Friday said.

A role for bananas in SVG

Gonsalves admitted that there is a role for bananas in the Vincentian economy.

“… but we have to make sure to have bananas for ourselves and for the tourists who come and for the regional market. And even there, we have competition,” he told the media.

“Of course, we can get it for special arrangement to the United Kingdom. So be it. But a generalised market, you’re not going to have that that.

“Therefore, if you are going to manage the transition and develop your country economically, what do you do in the case of the absence of preferences?”

The prime minister said that after the effective dismantling of preferences, the difficulty Dominica and SVG face are that neither country “had at the time of the end of the banana preferences a realistic end.

“None of us had the tourism infrastructure. We didn’t have, for instance, international airports,” Gonsalves said.

He said his government had to build quickly a jet airport in Canouan and then an international airport in St. Vincent.

“You have to build them before you get the requisite hotel stock. And while you are doing that, I have to prepare people for the developmental journey, which means you have to educate them, thus the education revolution.

“You see, when fellas were dealing with banana preferences and feeling comfortable with that, they could have had 60 per cent of the 12-year-olds not attending secondary school because they could shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Well, yeah. They ha’ banana hole to dig.”

However, later in the same press conference, Gonsalves said it is important to stay with the banana industry.

“And there are some farmers at the moment who have some fantastic banana fields. Up in the [Marriaqua] Valley, for instance, but not only there, and we have to continue.

“But, please, let us — the opposition must stop this nonsense about bananas coming back to the heyday or near to the heyday. Every week you have a banana boat coming here and tekking (taking) [fruit] and on an annual basis, they can do 30,000 tonnes. Come on. You know what I mean,” the prime minister said as he kissed his teeth.

“Let’s cut the nonsense and be serious,” the prime minister said.

11 replies on “Going back to ‘heyday of bananas’ is ‘foolishness’ — PM”

  1. I agree with every word in the message.

    Friday and them are trying to sell us a false bill of goods, as usual, as they have done wirh every promise they have ever made including saying in their 2015 election manifesto that they had developers all lined up for a multi-million dollar hotel and resort complex at Mt. Wynne which the party later totally repudiated after the Black Sands Resort deal was struck.

    Yes, the ULP has bad ideas but the NDP has no ideas.

    May Almighty God have mercy on us all!

    1. I agree with most all you say. I do not think banana has much of a future at present but at the same time I am not necessarily going to blame Friday for the deceptions of Mitchell. Possibly Friday is badly informed on this one just as Gonsalves is either misinformed on most everything economic or purposefully misinforms the public, except this time. This is one of the very few times Gonsalves actually is accurate in the area of economics.
      Maybe there is hope that he will one day wake up from his stupidity!

  2. Calliaquaman says:

    Flat argument.

    Mr PM, you cannot run away from facts and that which can be proven .The evidents are there ohter Caribbean are growing bananas for exporting, yes it may not be haydays but the market is still there to serve demand and supply. The Opposition, speak about 1000 acres of bananas as a start and make changes as you go long.

    You are very weak on this subject, your argument very flat. St.lucia, Grenada, Jamiaca all are doing well while you are dancing the holla Lou.

    God blessed SVG with two things , Land and Sea ,please make use of them or we suffer economic ally.
    Love.

  3. But I tell you, if you have to subsidise it to the extent that is required to compete in the British market, you will bankrupt the place. And it’s not sustainable.”

    That’s all that need to be said. NAFTA, WTO and the EU killed and buried this decades ago.

  4. MargiBalise the farmers and you can control them. Bananas give them independence, other industries create dependence.

  5. Calliaquaman says:

    Banana banana
    I am sad went I hear the beneficiaries of the banana industry is how comdemn it. 99.9% of the interlectuals in SVG are recipients of bananas. Many family sacrifice in the field to give you proper education and even the homes that some living in or may pass on.
    Some time ago the young Minister from Gregg’s speaking negatively about bananas when he should be encouraging other to go back to the land. He is a product of the bananas.
    Our land and soil did not change, and it not go too.
    Our forefathers and father work the land and produce with out machinery.
    Today we are in technical world and the powers that may can revolutionize their minds in that area how to cultivate the lands and less burdensome on the farmers.
    It can be done ask the Israeli how they grow bananas in dry desert and other crops.
    So stop making excuses and look for market, food always in demand. Bananas is a staple all over the world.
    Again went educated men sanction with the government in this area ,we are causing more pain to the mases is like saying to them I am eating Dolphin and you can eat the shark. Do not push down the ladder now you up , remember you are more exposed. To many farmers and fishermen who was proud of themselves are now beggers thru government policies and political exploitation. Finally every rope have an end. Bless

    1. So was it dishonest to say you will plant 2000 acres of bananas. Did that win an election? These politicians are preying on the most naive.

    2. Duke DeArment says:

      Your patriotism is commendable Caliquaman, however, at the moment Banana is not helping the country it is only hurting it. It costs us more to support than it can possibly bring….for the time being. At the moment it is a liability to us, just like the airport. Other crops should be supported more, while we allocate banana to Research and Development until a more suitable course of action is discovered. The Israelis have all the wealth in the world to help them do anything they wish, so that is no comparison. True, the government of Saint Vincent has very poor and negative financial policy. A bad system, bad management and one of the worst Economic Philosophy there is. That is what we need to change. The belief that we can spend borrow and tax the country into wealth and create policy that INSURES job DESTRUCTION and crime is madness. Ralph Gonsalves is a gifted man but we have to encourage him to throw off his indoctrination into unworkable economics that have never worked anywhere and anytime but only brings poverty, as it has done to Saint Vincent.

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