By Amanda-Faye Clarke, Ministry of Agriculture
Amidst ongoing cooperation from the Government of Taiwan to sustain growth within the agriculture sector, Minister for Agriculture, Hon. Ezechiel Joseph said efforts by the ministry to improve the international market share for bananas must be met with vigour by the lead exporter.
Minister Joseph said a recent review of Winfresh’s records of exports to the UK market is not reflective of banana production on the island.
He is concerned that the increase in production did not translate to increased exports, consequently resulting in losses for farmers who were unable to reap the financial benefits of actions initiated under the new agriculture policy.
The policy addresses the substantial deficiencies found in agricultural trade, investments and international product placements.
“We have a challenge,” Minister Joseph said. “The challenge is that the market under the current leadership is not providing the kind of support that we believe the company can give. As a government we have met with the leadership of Winfresh, during which the prime minister clearly articulated his concerns, so much so that we took a team to England to meet with stakeholders to get a firsthand appreciation of the challenges. Coming from that meeting we again met with Winfresh and informed them that we will not allow our efforts to increase exports to be stifled.”
In apportioning responsibilities and breaches to this new export agreement, Minister Joseph said all partners need to be held accountable for targets that are not reached.
“As a ministry, we try to be understanding, but the time has come now for us to speak out about our frustrations. If the current leadership is not in a position to support our initiatives and programs, it will have to allow persons who have the willpower and the energy, to provide that support. We need to see the benefits trickling down to our farmers.”
The strategic approach taken by the Ministry of Agriculture to expand banana production and exports is seen as a model to replicate in other Windward Island states.
Minister Joseph said it should serve as testimony to banana stakeholders that the ministry’s efforts to improve the quality and availability of bananas is well placed.
“What we are doing in Saint Lucia is being recognized by the other Windward Island countries,” he said.
“The Minister for Agriculture in Saint Vincent called me, urged by his banana farmers, to speak to Saint Lucia so that they can return to international markets. If the current exporter cannot, at this time, accommodate Saint Lucia, what will happen when Saint Vincent and Dominica get back into production? I want to make it clear that the time has come for a serious review.”
The Ministry of Agriculture will be working with the management of Winfresh in the coming weeks to ascertain what actions can be applied to address the issue.