Does our left hand know our right is killing our bananas?

During my research for my article in the last issue of this newspaper, I came across a very interesting document from 2006 which I shall share with you shortly. For now, let’s take a trip down memory lane and review the Black Sigatoka.
The blight first appeared in Honduras in 1972 and in Jamaica in 1995. So, Black Sigatoka has been spreading throughout the Caribbean region for quite a while although, until 2003, Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic were the only affected islands. Today Grenada, St Vincent, Martinique and more recently St Lucia have suffered.? In 2011, Dominica and Guadeloupe were the only Caribbean islands free of the banana disease.
Since 2010 St Lucia has been working with CIRAD (Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement), a French research centre. In June 2011, new hybrid bananas resistant to Black and Yellow Sigatoka were introduced to St Lucia. These hybrids, currently at greenhouses operated by Taiwanese (who else?), are tolerant to the parasites responsible for the destruction of the roots of banana plants. The integration of cultivars in the banana industry for affected countries is the long-term solution to the problem of Black Sigatoka.
Despite this established practical, ongoing cooperation with the French and Taiwanese, the government of St Lucia chose to seek help from a team of experts at the University of the West Indies who came, saw and returned home. Meanwhile, the Taiwanese remain on the sidelines, like mute spectators.
So let’s get back to my research and the interestingly impressive, comprehensive document entitled “Action  Plan for Black Sigatoka” that was published by the Banana Pests and Disease Technical Committee in St Lucia in December 2006, therefore have been commissioned during the previous Kenny Anthony government. There is no sound reason why the present Minister of Agriculture would be unaware of it.  The table of contents is worth mentioning: background information on the disease; survey procedures including detection, monitoring and evaluation, records; quarantine actions, approved regulatory treatments, use of authorized pesticides and eradication procedures. It even takes into account public awareness and sensitization.
This is a serious attempt to outline the dangers of a banana plague and the measures that need to be taken to avoid it—or to fight it whenever the need arises. The members of the BPDTC, an impressive Who’s Who in government and business, were as follows: From the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Mrs Joan John Norville, Mr Rufus Leandre, and Mrs Nymphia Edwards-James. Agricultural Consultancy and Technical Services Ltd, whoever they might be, were represented by Mrs Luvette Thomas-Louisy and Mr Thomas St Hill. Mr Ronald Pilgrim from the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute took part as did Mr Davidson Lloyd from the Windward Islands Banana Development and Exporting Company. Mr Hilary La Force and Mr Lucius Alexander from the Banana Emergency Recovery Unit, Mr John Mederick from Pest Services Management Limited and Mr Christopher Lubin from FDL Pest Control Solutions all contributed with their knowledge and experience. Special thanks to Ms Una May Gordon, IICA Representative in the Eastern Caribbean States, offered encouragement and reviewed the document that was signed Everton Ambrose.
Does anyone doubt the competency of a group such as this? Why is this report apparently being ignored? Why is the minister scuttling about in Costa Rica and driving himself into dark ditches as so far vainly he seeks a solution? Why are delegations burning up dollars in overseas “study trips?” What is the point of commissioning reports if their findings and recommendations are to be ignored when the time comes for action? If further proof were needed of the deficiencies of any group of St Lucian politicians, UWP or SLP,   the handing of this crisis is all that is required. They have collectively screwed up in their failure to tend to the needs of the population!
The preface to the document states that it “is intended for use when Black Sigatoka infection is
imminent or known to be present. This Action Plan is to be used as guidance in implementing
preventative or eradication procedures, or in managing the disease.  It provides technical and general information needed to implement any phase of a Black Sigatoka prevention, eradication and management programme. This plan is to be used in conjunction with the general Emergency Action Plan for Agricultural Pests and Diseases (EAP) in Saint Lucia.”
This is indeed an impressive, highly readable document even for the non-professional. The document is available on line and I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read it.
The Black Sigatoka, also known as black leaf streak, is a much more virulent relative of the common Yellow Leafspot disease. It has a much greater infection potential and control must be geared to cope with the short interval between infection of the leaf and production of spores capable of infecting new leaves.
Control is through the use of fungicides in conjunction with cultural control and other agronomic practices. Almost all dissemination of fungal pathogens responsible for disease outbreaks is through agents such as air, water, insects, other animals and human beings. An infected field should be cordoned off and all movement of unauthorized personnel
in or out of the area
prohibited or controlled.  The leaves of infected plants should be destroyed completely and as
quickly as possible using such means as drenching them with diesel oil and burning.  The rest of the field should then be cut down.
Depending upon the locality, all neighboring fields especially those downwind will also have to be cut back and all leaf material destroyed.  Unfortunately, by the time the presence of the disease is suspected and confirmed, spots probably would already have been formed and spores liberated in the air to be dispersed over long distances by the wind.  If the disease arrives by natural means (wind) numerous infections are likely to occur scattered over a wide area.                  Any area that cannot be effectively sprayed should be removed from production. Plants from all abandoned fields must be cut down.  Persons not in commercial production should be encouraged to plant Black Sigatoka resistant varieties. Public awareness and sensitization activities should be initiated immediately.
In the face of this disaster, why has Taiwanese aid not been requested? Why have farmers not received the assistance they so desperately need?
Why are they not able to receive the seeds and plants that would ease their economic woes and make them self-sufficient? Why does the minister of Agriculture not seek to utilize the millions and millions of Taiwanese aid dollars set aside for St Lucia since the first of January?
All but 100 days have passed since the election that returned Dr Anthony to power. Where are the jobs? Where are the 100 million dollars that he promised would be pumped into the economy “immediately” upon his election victory? Why? Why? Why? There are so
many questions to be answered.
Why not create new jobs in agriculture? Why not subsidize farm workers, so that each farmer could employ at least one new worker for a year? Would not STEP workers be better occupied clearing the fields of diseased plants and helping the farmers?
Yes, the worst of times brings out the worst and best in humanity. Let’s make sure this time that St Lucia rises from the ashes of burned down plantations, and agriculture flourishes once again.
Our friends are standing by, ready to help us help ourselves!

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