It has become the norm to honour people for their social and other significant contributions only when they die. Some, because of their low socio-economic and political status, are denied recognition—alive or dead. On November 3, 2017 I attended the funeral service of one such individual: Mr. Conrad James. The service was well attended by community members but the support and reaction of the farming community was disappointing.
Mr. James was an exemplary banana farmer, a dedicated father and a respected member of his community. One of the factors that contributed to his death should be of serious concern to the agricultural sector, particularly in terms of policies regarding the use of agrochemicals.
Mr. James was a very hard working and cooperative farmer. He was awarded ‘Farmer of the Year’ in 2007. His farm was the site for many trials and experiments, often selected for visits by representatives from various organisations, local and international. He remained in the banana industry during the difficult periods up to the time of his tragic death. He was one of the few farmers who stayed in the industry after all his children graduated from tertiary education and were employed.
Mr. James was an advocate for banana farmers, a key figure promoting the benefits of the fair-trade movement. On the website of the Fair Trade Advocacy Office, Mr. James highlighted the benefits of the fair-trade movement: “Fair Trade has a huge impact on me and our communities in many ways. Beginning with improving the standard of living, changing the mind-set of little or no regard for the environment, bringing people of common objectives together, empowering producers and communities, and the list goes on. In short, Fair Trade has proven to be our window of hope in this global environment.”
Mr. James expressed similar sentiments during an interview with Mr. George Alagiah, a renowned journalist, newscaster and patron of the Fair Trade Foundation. Photographs of Mr. James and his testimonies also appeared in several related publications and websites, particularly in the United Kingdom. The Fair Trade Foundation appeared to have capitalized on Mr. James’ visit to the United Kingdom in 2007 as he was featured in many events that highlighted the benefits of the fair-trade movement. In effect, it can be said that he was its local patron.
Mr. James ensured that his three sons were adequately schooled and assisted on the farm during school breaks. The positive impact he had on his sons and his dedication to farming motivated them to continue the farming business. It is likely that the children’s decision will serve as an example to draw young persons to the agricultural sector.
He succumbed to lung failure partly because of prolonged exposure to agro-chemicals. It is likely that this situation could have been avoided by the use of adequate and functional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and regular medical examinations. His death further demonstrates that it is not enough to instruct farmers to wear PPE. Timely and routine medical examinations should be factored into trading agreements, both locally and internationally, to the extent that farmers or farm-workers with unacceptable levels of chemical toxicity should be barred from farming or trading until their health condition improves. Until then, we just have to wait to find out how many more farmers and farm-workers will suffer the fate of Conrad James.