Banana Boxes Shortage, Farmers Facing a Crisis

By Reginald Andrew

A shortage in the supply of boxes to local banana farmers is being viewed as a short-lived crisis. This has prompted the authorities to take alternative measures to deal with the situation.

According to Agriculture Minister Henry Prospere the matter has caused a slight delay to farmers, particularly at this time, when there is an over surplus of the food crop.

Prospere said that following the passage of Hurricane Debby, last June, farmers were able to replenish their stock and by December of last year increased their production levels.

“Our farmers are now faced with a crisis with the unavailability of boxes at WINERA. This is a problem that has been ongoing for the last three weeks,” Prospere told reporters, at a media briefing, Monday.

He said the authorities have been in touch with WINERA and were informed that every year around this time, the company services their machines. However, there is been a lack of communication with the private exporters and so, “the private exporters found themselves not having cartons to export bananas.”

Currently, said the minister, the National Fair Trade Organisation (NFTO) has a few cartons at their disposal and the authorities were able to convince the NFTO to assist the other private exporters with a supply of boxes.

He said whereas, last week, a private exporter was supplied with 850 boxes, however, this week, some regional exporters did not have boxes available.

“But the Ministry of Agriculture took a pro-active approach and we requested 7,000 boxes from the Dominican Republic, which we are hoping will reach Saint Lucia by this weekend or early next week,” Prospere explained.

He said it was a worrisome situation, at this time, since “it is happening at a time when we have a surplus of bananas”.

Added Prospere: “Our farmers suffered from Tropical Storm Bret, in June, and since December, last year, they’ve been faced with a challenge where initially, there was a surplus of bananas and now we are talking about the unavailability of boxes.”

The minister stated that the situation is not conducive to the farmers, since some of the crop is likely to ripen and they will not be compensated for “their hard work”.

Nonetheless, he said, the farmers have been provided with a quantity of 34,000 bags of fertilizer in the last three weeks. “It means that those fertilizers will further increase production, (and) we are hoping that by the time our farmers are ready to continue their harvest …we would have resolved the situation.”

Prospere asserted: “So, this is not a very good thing for the sector, it is not good for our farmers and we are hoping that this problem will come to an end, at the soonest.”

He explained that WINERA has informed that the next supply of boxes would be available by April 10 “to recommence production of cartons.”

The minister added that while Winera has a monopoly to supply boxes, nevertheless, “we may have to take a decision to allow another entity, maybe Export Saint Lucia to import boxes.”

Prospere said, the issue involves thousands of farmers “faced with a challenge of not exporting their bananas between now and the next week.”

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