CASTRIES – St Lucia’s banana production may increase by a whooping 300 per cent if current production trends continue for this year, according to figured released here by marketing agents WINFRESH.
“If the current level of production is maintained, the island could see the production of almost 20 000 tonnes for 2017, which would be an over 300 per cent increase compared to 2016 figures,” the islands Agriculture Minister Ezechiel Joseph told reporters.
Joseph says the figures released by WINFRESH are “very encouraging” and called on farmers to continue to work diligently as government continues to expand the export market for the fruit.
“If we continue with what I am seeing, we might reach almost 20 000 tonnes for the year 2017 despite the fact that [for] the first quarter of 2017 . . . we were recovering from Tropical Storm Matthew, so that’s significant.”
Joseph disclosed that the country is hoping to add to its exports starting in January where it will send out 3 000 boxes of bananas to France on a weekly basis.
“They have given a commitment. They are still interested in purchasing our bananas, through of course, our established mechanism, that’s through Winfresh.
“So we are looking at starting sometime in January, where, January to March 2018 . . . . That is another market that we have of course and we need to increase the production.”
Joseph said he is optimistic taking into account the condition of banana fields on the island.
“It’s very encouraging,” he said, though noting that there should be greater banana production and consistency in yields.
“When I went to London I had the opportunity to meet with some of the major supermarkets and they are saying that they want more of the Windward Islands bananas, so there is a market.
“It’s for farmers now to be able to produce the fruit on a sustainable basis to increase the productivity so they can generate the type of returns . . . form that enterprise because right now, when I look at the figures . . . and if the figures are correct, it is showing that we have reduced our production per acre,” he noted.
Globalisation and changes in the European market since the early 90s, left the already fragile banana industry in tatters.
Exports declined from 132 000 tons in 1992 to just 42 000 tones in 1995 and has declined further since, with exports sometimes lower than 5 000 tons.
The number of banana farmers has also fallen from 10 000 to under 800 as the industry is forced to produce the quality fruit the market demands while facing stronger competition and lower prices. (CMC)