The fledgling banana industry showed some resilience in this year’s estimates of expenditure with an increase in revenue of 8 percent, totalling EC$21,464,523.
Minister for Agriculture, Food Production, Fisheries and Rural Development, Moses Jn. Baptiste, in his presentation during the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2013/2014, lauded the increases in production in all agricultural sectors except egg production.
Banana production in particular increased in the last fiscal year by 85 per cent despite competition from Latin American countries and the damaging effects of the Black Sigatoka disease.
Minister Jn. Baptiste mentioned a new focus and emphasis in the fight against the disease.
“With the allocation of estimates we are going to do something new apart from re-organizing our Black Sigatoka Management Unit. We are going to ensure that we follow the advice of the scientists and we are going to ensure that we have a programme that is tailored to our situation in Saint Lucia because the fight against diseases like Black Sigatoka sometimes is country specific,” he said.
New resistant varieties to the disease have been developed and will be dispersed throughout the island to reduce the inoculate pressure of the Black Sigatoka virus.
The minister also spoke of plans to expand the marketing strategy of the industry and to promote the production of diversified crops. Special emphasis in the coming year will be placed on market festivals to sensitize and promote local agricultural consumption.
A total of EC$256,000 has been allocated from funds derived from the Taiwanese Government to fulfill that mandate with particular focus on the coconut industry for which research shows an increasing demand throughout the region.
In addition, EC5.884 million has been allocated for an agricultural transformation program through a banana accompanying measure to sustain and promote the industry
“It is really through the BAM, the European Commission proposes to support adjustment to the most favourite nation’s tariffs of ACP countries that have supplied over 10,000 tons over the last 10 years. Hoping it will reduce poverty, foster sustainable growth and ensure banana farmers can be trained in adaptation strategies that will help boost the sectors competitiveness, promote economic diversification to adapt unemployment education and healthcare and use the environment in a more sustainable way,” Jn Baptiste said.
The minster paid special thanks to the staff and all Saint Lucians involved in the agricultural sector, stating that the future of the industry is promising. He also assured the public that the sector will also bring some economic relief to the island.