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Banana Production Increases but Authorities Concerned about Black Sigatoka Disease

By Reginald Andrew

Agriculture Minister Alfred Prospere has reported a favourable increase in production within the banana industry – despite concerns over the adverse effects of the Black Sigatoka disease.

The minister recalled that in June, 75% of the banana industry was destroyed following the passage of Tropical Storm Bret. The after effects resulted in a “food crisis” with some farmers losing their livelihoods for some time and striving to get their crop back in shape.

Nonetheless, he said, according to the Banana Management Unit since the passage of the storm there has been an increase in the production of bananas – with Week #51 showing an increase in production from 3, 000 to 3, 500 boxes per week. Over the next eight weeks, the minister added, the production is anticipated to yield at least 9,000 boxes per week.

“This is very good for our farmers …since the farmers had not generated income for the past five months,” Prospere told reporters, at a media briefing Monday.

“But it is also good for the sector, because we have a market that requires 15,000 boxes per week and we have not been able to get to meet that demand,” he said.

Prospere said, he hopes that the assistance provided to the farmers after the storm, such as fertilisers and other support mechanisms “will encourage them to get back into production”.

The minister noted that the ‘downside’ to these latest developments is an increase in the Black Sigatoka disease “which has been a serious problem for the banana sector and plantain as well”.

Added Prospere: “We have agreed to tackle the hot spots and the hot spots …are the areas of Micoud, Dennery, Cul de Sac and Roseau. We, as a ministry are trying our best to give some support to the farmers, in terms of (using) the oil spray so that we can have the disease under control.

“It makes no sense for us to be increasing our production, while we have to confront a serious disease that can wipe out the industry,” Prospere said.

He raised concerns about the impact of Climate Change, noting that over the past weeks there were heavy rains which were not conducive to farmers working to eradicate the Black Sigatoka disease.

“We are hoping that our farmers get some relief, in terms of treating their plantations, and their fields (so) they can continue to generate an income from bananas,” said the minister.

Prospere disclosed that through the Contingent Emergency Response – unleashed into the Green Economy – a sum of USD10 million were approved for the agriculture sector. He said the programme started last month and will run for a year whereby “our farmers, fishers and everyone (involved) in the agricultural sector will benefit, in terms of, responding to food insecurity.”

Major assistance will be provided to farmers with an increase in the quota of fertilisers, drainage works in areas such as Babonneau, Cul de Sac and the Dennery valley. “There are some primary drains that needs to be desilted and have not been done for many years,” the minister said. In addition, he said, “new blood lines” will be introduced into the local livestock production with swine, goats and sheep.

The minister further reported that a new agricultural station is all set to go “and we are going to bring in new bloodlines so that we can begin a new artificial insemination programme to benefit the livestock farmers.”

Also, he said, water tanks will be provided to farmers to support them with their Aquaponics projects and other forms of irrigation “because we know that water security is very important in our agricultural sector.”

Within the fisheries sector, Prospere noted, repairs will be done to the non-functional ice machines and fishers will also be provided with steel processing tables.

The minister observed that it is essential to provide healthy catering service to customers, “because sanitation is very important”. The fishers will also be provided with fish display cabinets, fish storage boxes and new ice machines.

Prospere said, new labs for research and training will be made available to farmers.

“And we are going to be providing a lot of training for our fishers and farmers to ensure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to get into ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’, as our agricultural sector is under serious threat from climate change,” Prospere added.

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