Where have all the Bananas gone? The Caribbean in the aftermath of the World Trade Organisation ruling.

So when you see dese ol clothes brown wid stain,
An soaked right through wid de Portlan’ rain,
Don’t cas your eye nor turn your nose,
Don’t judge a man by his patchy clothes,
I’m a strong man, a proud man, an I’m free,
Free as dese mountains, free as dis sea,
I know myself, an I know my ways,
An will sing wid pride to de end o my days

(Sung) Praise God an m’big right han’
I will live an’ die a banana man

{Evan Jones, Song of the Banana Man,” from The Penguin Book of Carribean Verse in English Copyright © 1986.}

Almost a decade or so ago, the World Trade Organisation decreed that Europe and the Caribbean’s banana exchange was deemed too incestuous in trade relations and unfair to the other exporters like Dole & Chiquita who wanted to flood the market with cheaper commodities which meant Caribbean growers had to sell their produce for less than what it took to cultivate in the first place.

A once vital crop for the West Indies now relegated to a status not far from a cultural pastime

A once vital crop for the West Indies now relegated to a status not far from a cultural pastime

Efforts as recently as last year were made to have people buy what were considered “Fairtrade” products from the Caribbean so as to undermine the US Global Giants who also wanted a piece of the European pie in banana profits. But what have the former kings of bananas done to recoup their once mighty status?

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

Viva La Vida Lyrics © Coldplay, 2008

Dominica just struck a deal with Venezuela, seeking to convert banana plantations into coffee beaneries;-

According to a news report in Maracaibo broadsheet, Panorama, the joint venture will produce, process, exchange, distribute and market coffee.

The agreement comprises 15 articles and the company will be registered in Venezuela. The Commonwealth of Dominica will have 49% of shares and Venezuela 51%. The company HQ will be in Dominica.”

Jamaica itself, which the opening poem was set in, has now also looked at alternative diversification;-

JAMAICA Producers Group (JP) has invested $150 million to set-up Four Rivers Mining Company, a joint-venture aggregate mining company aimed at further diversifying the conglomerate from agriculture… The operations will mine aggregate from the Agualta Vale-owned farm in St Mary. JP owns some 3,500 acres of land the majority of which is located in St Mary. “The joint venture will seek to optimise the agricultural lands not currently in production,” noted Hall of his strategy to squeeze revenue from assets.”

While it may be construed that “bootstrapping” – as Chas. ChuckMills III referred to entities streamlining their operations – is a viable way forward in an unpleasant situation, the downside is that this region, once hailed for its agrarian base is now rapidly dwindling in the midst of overseas growers seeking to be financial versions of the Roman Empire.

Admittedly the following are different fields of Agriculture, yet it should be noted of the death of sugar industries in both St Kitts and in Trinidad, while Antigua itself has no true agronomy to speak of – all in the last 20 years or so, and due to the shrinking of the planet’s borders through technology. Is there no way to engender one’s fertile culture of feeding while respecting global concerns?

FILE PHOTO - Dr Hardt speaking recently on Entrepreneurism at the Embassy's Wildey HQ in light of Sec of State's Hillary Clinton's Ecuadorian address

FILE PHOTO - Dr Hardt speaking recently on Entrepreneurism at the Embassy's Wildey HQ in light of USA's Sec of State's Hillary Clinton's Ecuadorian address

Dr Brent Hardt, the Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy for Barbados & the Eastern Caribbean says niche marketing within each island may provide the new way forward {CLICK ON FOLLOWING LINK FOR AUDIO};-

The career diplomat sees potential in mangoes and papayas as a new crop for offering visitors when stopping through this region.

The envoy was quick to point out that America was forced into complying as a reluctant partner in the euthanasia of Caribbean Banana Industry, Dr Hardt is of the view that the World Trade Organisation could have had some more consideration in their eventual ruling {CLICK ON FOLLOWING LINK FOR AUDIO};-

Dr Hardt stated even if the USA wished to alleviate conditions for the Caribbean in terms of Banana Production, the battle could have gotten much uglier by not complying with the WTO, as even the EU itself was split on the matter of supporting Dole & Chiquita as opposed to Caribbean farmers.

Entrepreneurism is the definitive method for survival, as agreed by every side in this long and sad war – sometimes the enemy can be the West Indies itself, not so long ago the Caribbean Development Bank chided regional fiscal providers for not being more willing to back agrarian projects and even though it’s noted there are challenges other than globalisation such as hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes yet support must be easier if the region is to truly explore all options available;-

“{Director of Finance and Planning, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr Warren Smith} explained the decline in demand for CDB’s financing for agriculture was likely due to a shift in focus by Borrowing Member Countries (BMCs) away from export crops such as sugar, bananas, which were affected by the removal of trade preferences in the late 90’s.

Other possible reasons he posited were the unattractiveness of re-engineering the production of the traditional agriculture export crops, and the failure to replace them with viable alternatives; the difficulties encountered in mitigating and transferring the high risks which were inherent in agricultural production. It was not surprising therefore, Smith said, that the regional food import bill had reached US$ 1.7 billion and had risen significantly since then.

While admitting that there were myriad challenges facing the sector, the CDB finance head stressed that it would be a major disincentive if effective risk mitigation strategies were not developed to continue financing the of the sector. ”

Let’s hope things like mauby, souse or soursop don’t go the way of arrowroot and copra… Rum in Barbados is already distilled from molasses of other territories, what’s next? Or is that tempting the fates?

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