Turning bananas into a cash crop has not been easy for banana farmers over the past few years.
The previous administration found itself struggling to give farmers a guarantee that their fruit, when exported, would get fair trade prices.
Unable to increase the island’s banana output despite claiming it could do so via access to French markets, the previous administration found itself in all sorts of scenarios with farmers who were relying on the government then, to reduce quality claims by buyers and source new and sustained markets for their fruit.
The issues that dogged the previous administration are now left for this administration to deal with, issues Agriculture Minister Alfred Prospere is finding out are not that simple to deal with.
But he is wading in having face-to-face meetings with farmers, like those in the community of Grace, Vieux Fort, getting first-hand knowledge of the challenges farmers face in banana production such as the high cost of fertilizer and other farm inputs, as well as market access.
Prospere acknowledged that the current state of the banana industry makes it difficult for farmers to produce high-quality products efficiently. He reiterated his commitment to looking into ways to assist banana farmers in improving the quality of their produce.
He told reporters yesterday, prior to a meeting of the Lower House of Parliament, that it is important to keep exporting fruit to the United Kingdom (UK), which at this time is not being done. It is hoped that by the second quarter of this year enough improvements would be made locally to get bananas back in the UK market.
Prospere hopes that the task force on bananas would have done what it was asked to do to convince buyers in the UK that Saint Lucia is doing what it has to do to secure the UK market.
“We’re hoping that we can resume banana exports from Saint Lucia to the UK in a few weeks,” Prospere said.
He said he is confident that this could happen having spoken with the supermarket personnel in the UK last week.
“They are really curious to know what we are doing. I (gave) them an update in terms of what we’re doing so far. I have been engaging the farmers in terms of stressing on the importance of quality, but we know there are also challenges in terms of high cost of farming like fertilizer and so on,” Prospere said.
“We just got some fertilizer in country last week and the BPIP (Banana Productivity Improvement Project) is selling the small bag at $60.00 and I think from what I gathered before it was going for almost $90.00 so we have subsidized the fertilizer for the farmers. I wish we could give it to them a lot cheaper but there are cost implications and so on, so we are hoping we can continue to work with the farmers and to ensure that we can place confidence and trust in the supermarket people in the UK,” Prospere said.