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Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, J.C. Hutchinson has said that the time has come to take a long hard look at the banana industry, with a view to strategically reposition it.
“The fact is, no other sub-sector is more susceptible to adverse weather conditions than the banana industry. We have simply had to rebuild every time there is a hurricane. Equally, none of the other traditional commodities has had its marketing arrangement challenged as export banana,” he remarked.
Mr. Hutchinson was making his contribution to the 2008/09 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on May 21.
He pointed out that much has been spent on the industry, and that even in non-hurricane years, the country’s export volume for banana was about 30,000 tonnes, “a far cry from over 70,000 tonnes per annum we exported between 1993 and 1997.”
Noting that the industry had been almost wiped out by Hurricane Dean last year, he said the Government quickly came to the rescue of the industry by providing a US$4 million loan to the Banana Export Company (BECO), to resuscitate export banana.
“The Government has also assumed the hurricane risk associated with this loan. Thanks to this intervention, export farmers have been rehabilitating their fields and we expect to recommence export by this month, with a projected outturn of some 13,000 tonnes for the rest of the financial year,” the State Minister said.
Pointing out that the resources now available from the European Union for the sector is $1.1 billion, Mr. Hutchinson said that given the limited prospects with respect to export banana, “we must now skew out assistance to the domestic sector to build a strong and vibrant sector.”
He explained that while annual exports averaged some 20,000 tonnes of banana, the domestic market demanded over 100,000 tonnes. “We are, therefore, committed to providing the infrastructure, technical and marketing support to build a strong domestic sector,” he told the House.
The State Minister further informed that the EU is funding the Rural Diversification Programme in the sum of $526 million, which would allow banana farmers to embark on new projects under this programme.