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The Banana Support Project has received an allocation of $91 million in the 2006/07 Estimates of Expenditure, now before the House of Representatives, to continue to promote sustainable development in the traditional banana growing areas of the island.
Funded by the Government and the European Union in the sum of $2 million and $89 million respectively, the project, which began in April 2005, is slated for completion in March 2008.
Anticipated physical targets for the fiscal year include: maintenance of the living standards of banana farmers and farm workers; and addressing the needs of banana and plantain farmers through the project management co-ordination division of the Ministry of Agriculture, in association with the Banana Export Company (BECO), the former implementing agency.
Assistance will also be provided to public and private agencies in promoting alternative economic activities for banana farmers, farm and port workers.
In addition, a database system is to be established with up-to-date information on all registered banana and plantain farmers. The funds will also go toward full recovery of the sector to pre-Hurricane Ivan levels of production for domestic use and export and to continue to improve fruit quality ratings to beyond 95 per cent. Fifty farmers will be assisted to achieve European Retail Parties Good Agricultural Practices (EUREGAP) compliance and 11 enabled to export into the United Kingston’s Fair Trade niche.
As it relates to support services, technology transfer will be continued as well as applied research into products, operational procedures and planting materials.
Laboratory tests and field trails will be done to determine optimum input use and environmental safety, in addition to farm and certification tests. Pest and disease control will be carried out on some 500 hectares of cultivation and 400 farmers trained in pest and disease control. Also, drainage and soil conservation systems will be constructed and maintained.
Achievements up to March 2006 include the establishment of a project steering committee and project management unit, while more than 664 banana farmers were assisted to actively resuscitate their plantations after the hurricanes, in addition to more than 135 plantain farmers.
Full pre-Ivan tonnage (over 4,000 boxes weekly) were produced by July 2005, before Hurricanes Dennis and Emily, while approximately 35 per cent of pre-Dennis and Emily production levels were achieved by November 2005. In addition, the average fruit quality was improved from 91 per cent pre-Ivan level to 95 per cent of units with specification.
In the support services area, more than 5,000 hectares of banana and plantain cultivation were sprayed, while some 30 kilometres of drains were constructed and cleaned. Some 185 export farms were audited for EUREGAP readiness for compliance with export Farm Certification Programme (FCP) standards.
Also, 11 farms were audited for fair trade and eight accepted for registration with the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation (FLO). A database system with up-to-date information on all registered banana and plantain farmers was also established.