The St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) is calling on the authorities to heed the pleas of local banana farmers in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
SLP spokesperson on agriculture, MP Shawn Edward speaking at a recent media brief said the plight of farmers has been further depleted since the advent of the coronavirus.
He said the SLP is “very disappointed” with the performance of the government in dealing with farmers, since they assumed office more than four years ago.
“The plight of the banana farmers has worsened in the past four and a half years against some very bold promises that were made to them by the United Workers Party (UWP),” declared Edward.
He added that the farmers are dejected with the ‘poor response’ from government as they are left with nothing more than ‘broken promises’ , as the government failed to keep up to the assurances made to farmers.
He said the prospects of exporting bananas to France is but one of the promises that has failed to materialize.
“As a result of the pronouncements and the promises made by the UWP, when farmers returned to the fields we saw an increase in production, because they were promised a new market in the French territory,” Edward said.
He added, “And when it was time to harvest, they increased production and there were no markets available to the farmers and bananas that were originally planted for export had to be left to rot on the farms …and they had to be fed to animals.”
He said that as a result farmers production were severely hampered and “we saw a bit of stagnation in the rural economy.”
Edward noted that while traditionally St. Lucia has exported bananas to the United Kingdom, however “that too under the UWP was met with some roadblocks, hurdles and we endured the period…where absolutely no fruit was being shipped to the UK.”
He said that though farmers were able to sell their produce in the regional market, but “that too had its problems,” as the farmers fell short of some export requirements.
Edward recalled that the UWP government had set up the Banana Improvement Unit (BIU), heavily staffed with a wage bill of $1million annually, yet “they did not see the need to have a single crop protection officer in that entity.”
Consequently, he said, the farmers suffered from some of the quality issues that they encountered.
Edward said that banana cultivation can still play a vital role in the country’s food stock output and in generating income.
“I still believe that today, there is a significant role for banana cultivation in St. Lucia and that the government owes it to the farmers to work in tandem with them …to ensure that the rural livelihoods can be salvaged,” he asserted.
On a more positive note, he acknowledged that bananas were again being shipped to the UK, through the efforts of the NFTO which had “to shoulder a lot of the responsibilities that WINFRESH would have shouldered in the previous arrangement in relation to the marketing and sales of bananas in the UK.”
Edward reiterated that government must make an effort to at least meet the farmers halfway, “so that the industry can be salvaged and that a lot of persons in this COVID period who rely on banana cultivation as a form of livelihood for themselves, their families and their communities will begin to see light again at the end of that tunnel for the banana industry.”