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Months before banana industry picks up

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

Months before banana industry picks up

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CASTRIES, St Lucia, CMC – It could be another eight months before St Lucia’s banana industry is back on its feet again following the destruction caused by Hurricane Tomas, but agriculture officials say they will focus on using the devastation as a catalyst to bolster the agriculture sector.
Preliminary assessments show the sector was hard hit by the Category 1 hurricane, with banana crops completely wiped out.
“As a country, we may be able to export bananas in May or June, 2011,” said Agriculture Minister Ezechiel Joseph.
“If there is need for total rehabilitation as a Ministry we believe that we should capitalize on the opportunity for us to produce during a period when WINFRESH and the UK market has the demand for the product, so whilst there are a lot of sad stories, there are opportunities for us as a country to capitalize on what is happening right now.”
Preliminary assessments also indicate that the livestock sector was also severely hit by Tomas, which came at a time that the entire agriculture industry was re-emerging from the effects of the recent drought.
The Agriculture Minister said the devastation caused by the natural disaster has made it even more important for government to scale up support for the industry.
 “The Prime Minister just recently made an allocation to provide support to our farmers. Right now we have to go back to the drawing board. We believe that whilst the situation is drastic, our farmers will be able to bounce back with the necessary support,” Joseph said.
“It’s not the first time we have experienced something like this; we know our farmers are capable of bouncing back, although this is the worst I have ever seen in my tenure within the agriculture sector. We will not surrender. I want to see this as an opportunity and I will capitalize on it.”
Joseph said technical personnel from the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry and Fisheries will be conducting an in-depth assessment to ascertain the real extent of loss to the agriculture sector.
Tomas caused widespread damage in St Lucia and claimed at least 14 lives. Prime Minister Stephenson King last week increased the estimate of the damage to EC$500 million (US$185 million).