ST.LUCIA: SLP Abandonment of Banana Farmers Leads to UK Trade Suspension.
The history of banana production in Saint Lucia offers clear proof that the St Lucia Labour Party has always demonstrated more interest in political office at any cost than in the particular interests of banana farmers and their contributions to our country’s economy.
As far back as the 1970s, in the time of Sir John Compton, the Labour Party has treated the banana industry as a political football. The undeniable truth is that throughout the mid-70s and the 1990s, the strategists of the Labour Party concentrated on encouraging farmers to fight among themselves at their own expense and at great cost to the nation’s economy. Finally, on the advice of one prime minister, the farmers gave up on bananas in favour of investing in vehicles to service the tourism industry, only to be betrayed by the same SLP government!
Fast forward to more recent times. After consistently attacking the UWP’s plans for revitalizing the sector, the Philip J. Pierre administration convinced local farmers that they had somehow stumbled upon a new way forward. The truth soon hit home that once again the resilient banana producers have been kicked in the teeth by the SLP, this time led by Philip J. Pierre and his Agriculture Minister Alfred Prospere. Their notorious incompetence has resulted in the death of a March 2021 arrangement negotiated by the
Allen Chastanet administration to ship bananas to a supermarket chain in the UK.
Prospere was quick to claim credit when in August this year Saint Lucia started shipping bananas to the UK, never mind the hard work of the Allen Chastanet government that had invested millions in assisting the National Fairtrade Organization and the Banana Productivity Improvement Program. With help of the SLDB, the Chastanet government approved $4.5 million to ensure farmers were paid on time and that they produced high-quality fruit. Prior to the 2021 general elections, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Elsa on July 2021, the UWP government approved more funds from the CIP for the
NFTO and provided technical support to help hard-hit farmers recover.
No surprise that the efforts of the UWP administration were never acknowledged, even as Prospere boasted about having shipped 2000 crates of bananas to the UK. Not a word about the cessation of vital necessary support to farmers following the elections—which resulted in the inability of farmers to meet their quota. In consequence, Waitrose decided to further cut their order to just one container—1000 crates. Even then, it was difficult to meet that amount, all thanks to the SLP government’s neglect and incompetence.
With no other choice, Prospere now seeks to blame his government’s failure on the UWP. But the people know better. The SLP has once again treated banana farmers with scant regard once they had been elected to office, as occurred in 1997. Having failed to persuade farmers the UWP is responsible for their current woes, Prospere and the St Lucia Labour Party are now crying about shipping costs. As usual, the SLP has taken to blaming everyone else—the Ukraine war, inflation, rain, Allen Chastanet, the farmers—when it is their incompetence that is obviously responsible for their failures and the effects on the country generally.
The United Workers Party, from the onset, understood that a robust agricultural sector is foundational to the fulfillment of our national development. The UWP prioritized agriculture as part of our Medium Term Development Strategy, secured the commitment from Fyffes in order to increase market access and penetration, and focused on improving quality. It was also the UWP administration that developed a finance mechanism to facilitate trade with Trinidad and Tobago, now also working to the benefit of farmers. The United Workers Party was never hesitant to explore new markets for our bananas and other agricultural produce. As prime minister, Allen Chastanet and his agriculture minister spearheaded efforts to dialogue with the French and Dutch in the best interests of our farmers.
With the Banana Productivity Improvement Project, the Allen Chastanet government focused on addressing the decline in productivity and establishing efficiency of our country’s banana industry. The UWP government focused on the following areas:
- Expansion of Acreage under cultivation
- Pest and disease control
- Increased productivity of banana farms
- Establishment of a Sustainable Finance Mechanism for inputs
Not only did the United Workers Party secure sales for our bananas while focusing on quality control, we were also upfront with farmers about the realities confronting the sector and the work that needed to be done. Our efforts included working closely with Taiwanese and simultaneously focusing on the seven-crop program.
All was in place for the success of the sector, if only the SLP had chosen to put the farmers ahead of its own selfish ambitions and followed the plan already in place. Our banana farmers are now left out in the cold, amidst increasing concern about our cocoa production and the future of the seven-crop program. Based on reports, the United Workers Party is immensely concerned about the immediate future of the National
Fairtrade Organization, widely reported to be on the verge of collapse.
It is vital that the Philip J. Pierre government steps up and gives the sector necessary assistance. Dreaming up scapegoats for their failures will further affect not only the livelihood of farmers but also exacerbate the several social ills currently afflicting our country.
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