Wednesday 29 January, 2020

Local banana farmers call for change of harmful Winfresh quota system

Minister of Agriculture Ezechiel Joseph

Minister of Agriculture Ezechiel Joseph

Banana farmers in Saint Lucia are complaining bitterly that the recent implementation of a quota system by Winfresh for the purchasing of their bananas is affecting their livelihood.

And as a result, they are calling on the government to force Winfresh to revisit the quota system in order for the ailing banana industry to improve, so more farmers do not leave it.

According to the concerned farmers, without the quota, they will be able to supply the UK market with much more than the quota of 6000 boxes per week, which were allocated to them.

Earlier this week, they reiterated their position on the contentious issue on a local talk show, on which Minister of Agriculture Ezechiel Joseph was the guest.

Saint Lucia is now the only island producing bananas among the four Windward Islands.

Commenting on the quota system, Minister Joseph said at the moment Saint Lucia is unable to satisfy its allocation of bananas to Winfresh, but added that the government does not support such a system.

“We are not meeting our quota. We are falling short…” Joseph told the listening audience, quoting figures to prove it.

He said over the past few weeks, Saint Lucia has fallen short by between 2,000 and 3,000 boxes of bananas per week.

“When we heard of the quota system, we say it does not make sense. We say it can’t work…” Joseph said.

The reason for the shortfall in the supply of bananas to the UK market is due to the large number of farmers not certified to sell bananas to the National Fair Trade Organization (NFTO), which is contracted by Winfresh to sell bananas to the UK market.

Uncertified banana farmers sell their bananas to the local and regional market.

According to the minister, only 10% of NFTO farmers are allowed to be certified per year, which he said is of concern to the government.

For a farmer to be certified, his plantation must be of a particular standard and produce top quality bananas.

Responding to Minster Joseph, a caller to the program said, the quota system by Winfresh is discouraging farmers from going into banana production.

“This is nonsense. The government must do something about that…” the caller fumed, adding that the government is not showing enough interest in the plight of farmers.

“Is Winfresh in our interest, or other people’s interest?” the caller asked.

Another lamented: “It’s not that we are not capable of satisfying the UK market, it’s just Winfesh making things hard for us.”

According to the caller, he knows a farmer who has five acres of land on which he plants only bananas, which he only sells to the local and regional market.

The caller said the situation needs to change immediately.

Apart from selling to the UK market, a number of certified farmers also sell their bananas to the local and regional market, some of who say it is more profitable to them because of the quota system.

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