$12 million to fight Black Sigatoka

Agriculture Minister Moses JnBaptiste.

The highly anticipated Black Sigatoka meeting between Minister of Agriculture Moses Jn Baptiste and banana and plantain growers took place last weekend at the Inland Reception and Distribution Center (IRDC) in La Caye Dennery. The meeting was held to apprise growers and stakeholders of government’s proposals to manage the dreaded leaf spot disease in the short and medium term.
According to the minister, the government of St Lucia has committed an estimated 12 million dollars in this year’s budget which will be used in the fight against the disease. He further announced that government has secured fertilizers and chemicals for dissemination to producers around the island.
Jn Baptiste addressed scores of banana and plantain farmers at the IRDC who were eager to hear how the government proposes to deal with the disease.
“I’m calling on every St Lucian who have two or three plants of banana in their yard to help us fight Black Sigatoka because if we do nothing. If we don’t do it we are going to fail and our food security will be in trouble and we cannot allow that to happen,” said Jn Baptiste.
The new minister emphasized that it is important for St Lucians to understand that spraying of the crop alone will not do it; “farmers need to clean thoroughly around their plants.”
Experts within the Ministry of Agriculture were present to provide technical advice to farmers as well as provide information on the way forward in controlling he spread of the disease.
Even as questions started pouring from the gathered crowd, many concerns were expressed by farmers on the role of Winfresh, the company charged with the responsibility for marketing Windward Island bananas. Some felt that the company was the sole beneficiary in the banana industry and the only one enjoying the profits which belong to the farm.
Former minister of agriculture in the SLP administration  Calixte George was also present at the meeting and felt the plans being proposed by the ministry may not be feasible.
“I am speaking from experience; since Hurricane Tomas, it has taken me a whole year before I can put proper drains, you cannot grow bananas, you cannot control Black Sigatoka unless you have proper drains,” explained George while adding, “The most important thing you can do as the ministry of agriculture is to ensure that there is proper drainage on the fields of the bananas so that they in turn can access the plants and be in a position to fight the disease.”
The former minister explained that timeliness is very important in the field of agriculture while indicating one of the challenges for farmers is to add drainage to their farms due to the high costs attached.
“The farmers cannot afford to pay 35 dollars a chain to dig drains and it will take them 10 years before they can complete the drainage in the area. So what you have to do as a ministry is to get mechanization going and in fact, that is how the banana industry was built in the old days, farmers had to get tractors to come in and prepare their land, their drains etc, because the ministry of agriculture had a mechanization unit,” said George.
He advised the ministry under the leadership of Jn Baptiste to put in place a similar mechanization unit which will aid farmers in creating proper drains on their farm.
But according to the agriculture minister, while everyone’s input was welcomed, swift and immediate action is needed if the disease must be brought under control. He explained that there are short term initiatives and long term initiatives which can be used to combat the disease and “all suggestions will be taken into consideration.”
The concerns of the growers were noted and a commitment was given by the minister to address some of the issues affecting the banana industry.

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