The Agriculture Sector is showing expanded growth and the review of the output of most subsectors shows high level of production. This formed part of a report to Parliament last Tuesday by Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Cooperatives, Ezechiel Joseph, who noted that notwithstanding the negative impact of climate change, Saint Lucia still recorded 5.8 percent growth of banana sales to the UK Market and also experienced growth of 7.6 percent in revenue for 2018.
“The undisputed fact is banana exports in 2018 despite the negative impact of Tropical Storm Kirk is the highest in five years,” stated Minister Joseph. “This Government, understanding and appreciating the socio-economic impact of well-coordinated Agriculture programmes on our rural communities, has decided to undertake a focused approach in the implementation of our many programmes.”
He referenced the Banana Production Improvement Project (BPIP) along with the financial and technical assistance from the Government of Republic of China (Taiwan) as one such programme. The Minister spoke to specific growth since 2016, including a jump from 1,117 acres to 2,669 acres of banana cultivation, and increases from 230 farmers to 643 farmers operating 764 banana farms and from 195 farmers selling fruits to the UK market to 291 farmers currently.
The Minister noted that there are presently over 290 farmers wanting to be Euro gap certified.
“This certification is necessary to allow these farmers to sell farm trade bananas on the UK market. Presently the system allows to certify only 10% of the total number global gap certified farmers per year. This means we can only certify thirty farmers in 2019 if we allow that policy to stand. Stakeholders are in discussion to see what can be done to assist these farmers who are on the stand by list.”
The Minister added that with the positive impact of the Banana Production Improvement Programme (BPIP), the stakeholders are projecting a weekly export production of 17,000 boxes; barring any negative impact of climate change and of course the introduction of any new pest or disease.
The Agriculture Minister also reported on a recent trip to the UK led by the Prime Minister and with officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. This was triggered after WINFRESH informed the National Fair Trade Organization (NFTO) that they can only guarantee 6,000 boxes weekly of fair trade fruits of which over 4,000 boxes are small fingers.
“This situation, if allowed to remain is not favourable and supportive to our programme,” noted the Minister, adding that the trip was very promising. “UGBAN continues to express interest in purchasing Saint Lucian bananas and agreed to a trial shipment of 1,000 boxes for three weeks in the first instance. If these trial shipments proved successful, the company would commit to 3,000 boxes weekly. These boxes are expected to contain twenty-two clusters – six finger bagged fruits. While we were able to get the 1,000 boxes for our first trial shipment, because of the size of our fruits we were not able to get the twenty-two clusters – six finger bagged fruits in our existing box.”
Discussions are continuing with the company, noted the Minister and there are possibilities at examining other options such as: less clusters in a box; getting more appropriate cartons which are more suitable to pack the twenty-two clusters or; looking at the option of selling loose fruits. The Minister reported that the supermarkets in the UK are interested in more small fingers and Organic Fairtrade fruits.
“It was generally agreed that there are still opportunities for our conventional standard fruit and there was general willingness to support a Branding Campaign for Saint Lucia Banana in the UK. We agreed to continue discussions on the approach to this campaign.”
The Minister added that there will be continued discussion with UGBAN on possible options to satisfy the market in France. There will also be a training programme to be implemented for packers, inspectors and farmers to address quality issues, there is a need to review inspection operation at the IRDC’s and a meeting of stakeholders will take place to decide on the way forward to undertake the branding-initiative.