By Caribbean News Global contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia – The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) was vindicated by minister for agriculture Ezechiel Joseph, admitting the catastrophic failure of the Allen Chastenet-led United Workers Party (UWP) administration, to ship bananas produced by Saint Lucian farmers on a weekly basis to an ‘imaginary having been fabricated’ French market.
Former minister for agriculture Moses Jn Baptiste, speaking at the SLP press conference on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, said:
“Minister Joseph, in statements to local media January 29, 2020, confirmed that there were never any structured arrangements by the UWP administration to have weekly shipments of bananas to the French market; and that the repeated promises to Saint Lucians of an expanded banana industry into France or Martinique were meant for election purposes and not based in any form of reality.”
On background, in 2018, celebrating the second anniversary of the UWP return to office, Joseph asserted that, “the local banana industry is alive” and that “over 600 farmers have gone back into banana production. We have seen over 1,200 acres being replanted in bananas in Saint Lucia. That is an accomplishment,” he declared.
“We have seen that we have been able to export more bananas to the UK market last year. The news that we got when we met with technical people and importers both in France and in England, clearly tell us that the banana industry still has life. There is a market for our bananas and that is why Cabinet and my prime minister said: ‘Look, we are going to give support to our banana farmers,” Joseph said.
That same year, prime minister Chastanet made the announcement, that “a three-week trial shipment of bananas from Saint Lucia to the French market had begun,” he continued. “One thousand boxes weekly will be shipped during the trial period and once the trial is successfully completed, 3,000 boxes are expected to be shipped weekly,” and that “agriculture minister Joseph led a trade mission to meet with strategic banana partners in Europe.”
“During our trip, we were able to identify new markets and opportunities whilst forging partnerships to ensure that the Saint Lucia brand of banana will have more visibility on the UK market,” Chastanet added, “Another success from this trip was the commencement of supplying bananas to the French market,” he said.
On January 27, 2020, the minister for agriculture stated that farmers were complaining about their deteriorating situation in the banana industry, further chided some farmers for their seeming lack of responsible actions in the certification process, and noted that they were not able to reach the quota of bananas which was allocated to them by Winfresh.
However, former minister for agriculture Jn Baptiste observed: “This attitude of the minister flies in the face of progress when he [Joseph] and the prime minister publicly pronounced during the period leading to and after the 2019 budget debate. In fact, the minister infamously claimed that banana exports had increased by 200 percent, when in fact, the exports declined by nearly 1,000 tonnes between 2016 and 2018.”
“It is unfair and callous for minister Joseph to place the blame for the failure of the policies of his prime minister and the UWP administration, on bananas, at the doorsteps of our farmers,” Jn Baptiste explained. “This administration insisted that they would commence weekly exports of bananas to the French market and that they are directly responsible for its failure.”
Secondary to that, Jn Baptiste said, “The management of the dreaded Black Sigatoka disease has not lived up to the quality and efficient service which is necessary for a successful banana industry, and the promise of 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes of banana exports has not materialized.”
Minister Joseph further stated that the so-called trial of a shipment of bananas to England for onward transmission to France failed, and I quote, “… because of the size of our fingers, the small fingers, we were not able to pack the requirements as requested by that company…”
Jn Baptiste described minister Joseph’s comments as “an insult to the farming community,” noting that the minister “demonstrated his lackadaisical and uncaring attitude to important matters,” further, citing the minister’s comments on January 27, suggesting that “the bananas were packaged shipped and then the company was contacted with information about banana fingers.”
The former minister for agriculture concluded that these: “Comedy of errors again suggests that the prime minister and minister for agriculture had no tried and tested marketing arrangements for their much-touted French market.”
The ‘imaginary having been fabricated’ French market, the SLP insists, “requires the minister for agriculture and the prime minister to initiate practical actions that will end the suffering, social and economic injury of banana farmers, many of them, have lost so much,” Jn Baptiste said.