It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the qualities required to be a member of the Saint Lucia Labor Party is the ability to ignore the truth and distort the facts. The last representative of art in the current government is the Minister of Agriculture.
At first glance, Alfred Prospere appears as a more mature individual than most of the other members of the motley government of which he is a part. Unfortunately, this positive trait bears no relation to a person’s ability to speak the truth, especially when one is expected to constantly read the Labor Party playbook.
This could partly explain Mr Pospere’s statement to the media last week in which he tried to blame the United Workers Party for the collapse of the banana industry. Here is what he said: “In July 2021, when the Saint Lucia Labor Party government took office, we found a banana industry that had collapsed under the UWP government.”
He then goes on to tout some of the things he said his government had done to revive the industry, including injecting a meager EC$3.8 million into the National Fair Trade Organization (NFTO) , a UK market tour he led, and soon.
Anyone who knows the banana industry in Saint Lucia and has followed its development over the years will know the real reasons for its collapse. To say the least, it collapsed due to the effects of so-called “karma” – the result of a person’s actions as well as the actions themselves. It’s a term on the cycle of cause and effect, a kind of retribution, payment for past misdeeds.
In even clearer terms, the decline of the banana industry today, and the fact that it is now the Saint Lucia Labor Party’s turn to deal with it, is a reward for mischief both designed and supported by the SLP and its associates in the past. .
The same fate may now await other important sectors of Saint Lucia’s economy, particularly tourism, foreign direct investment and the construction sector. When our economy collapses, if it hasn’t already, we cannot feign surprise or misunderstanding of what is happening. The same way the SLP demonized the UWP’s stewardship of bananas to destroy its political base in the 90s, they have been doing it again since coming to power with tourism, investment and construction. infrastructure.
Even now there are signs that tourism is in decline and mainly because the work needed to push the sector further after its 66.8% GDP growth (Central Bureau of Statistics figures) in 2021 was not done. We cannot pretend to ignore the massive decline in construction and investment with the SLP government halting a number of major projects: Hewanorra International Airport, St Jude’s Hospital, Rodney’s Bay and other roads, housing projects, etc. GDP growth in the construction industry increased by 20% last year, again according to the CSO.
But let’s go back a bit. The people of Saint Lucia know very well that it was under the United Workers Party that the banana industry established itself as a fully commercial enterprise to the point of becoming the backbone of our island’s economy. At one time, bananas alone held the economy together. The industry was so powerful that it was able to bridge the economic and social gaps between urban and rural Saint Lucia. “Green gold” they called it, so powerful and rich was it.
Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, the other three Windward Islands have all joined in the production of bananas for the UK market, but none have been able to challenge St. -Lucia as the first exporter among the islands.
But how did we get here? It is mainly thanks to the remarkable work of our founding father, the late John Compton, himself a banana farmer who championed the industry long before he became head of government in 1964. In times of instability and threats to its survival in the UK market, it was Compton who virtually lived on planes flying to European capitals to advocate and negotiate aid and terms of trade for industry. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, he was to be joined in this endeavor by fellow Windwards executives, Eugenia Charles from Dominica and James Mitchell from St Vincent,
As in any industry, there would always be issues affecting production and bananas were no exception. There were problems in the market and problems at home. Quality has become a factor, as have rising production costs and pest control, among others. Ironically, it was at this very moment that some dissident growers began campaigning for control of the affairs of the Saint Lucia Banana Growers Association (SLBGA) and they found ready accomplices within the Labor Party. of Saint Lucia.
Despite all the problems and confusion in the industry, banana exports and revenues in Saint Lucia reached record figures: 133,777 tons and EC$186.9 million in 1990. In February of the same year , opposition leader Julian Hunte led a group of around 200 people, mostly banana farmers, at a protest in Castries against industry conditions. This march marked the beginning of a new era of turbulence in the industry. There were three major issues to contend with: producer dissatisfaction with their income from the industry; the constant challenge of producing better quality fruit and the effects of impending market changes in Europe, where a single market was to be created in 1993.
Continued domestic unrest gave rise to the Banana Salvation Committee (BSC) which decided to twin with the Labor Party and it was then that the collapse of the banana industry really began. The banana strikes called by the BSC and supported by the SLP caused a “civil war” within the banana growing community. Farmers who refused to join the strikes saw their fields vandalized, trees ripped to shreds and agricultural infrastructure burned. Many have left the industry.
The election of the ruling Labor Party in 1997 further accelerated the collapse of the banana industry. The BSC which had campaigned to bring the SLP to power was rewarded when the government ceded control of the SLBGA to a new entity, the St Lucia Banana Corporation (SLBC). The SLP also wrote off a $40 million debt from the former association. But instead of the fresh start promised by both the SLP and the BSC, chaos began to reign, dividing the BSC and the SLBC. There were complaints about the way the company was run, allegations of maladministration and abuse of power.
In this climate, producer confidence was severely shaken. Over the next 10 years, the number of banana growers fell from over 10,000 to less than 1,000, but it was the export figures that belied Alfred Prospere’s claim that the industry had collapsed under the UWP.
From 1986, with the exception of 1987 and 1994, banana exports from Saint Lucia were in the six figures, over 100,000 tons per year. All that changed when the SLP came to power in 1997. Exports fell dramatically to five figures a year. From 105,000 tonnes in 1996, the last full year of UWP’s tenure, here are the export figures under the SLP over the next 10 years, and these are the figures from the Saint Lucia Central Bureau of Statistics : 1997 — 71,397 tons; 1998—73,039 tons, 1999—65,231 tons; 2000—70,282 tons; 2001—34,044 tons; 2002—48,160 tons; 2003—33,971 tons; 2004—42,236 tons; 2005—30,007 tons and 2006—30,318 tons.
So this is the horror story of the Saint Lucia banana industry under the SLP. With market competition and farmers continuing to face challenges at home, in addition to their ongoing lack of trust in SLP governments, it is easy to see why so many people have walked away from the industry. The Labor Party must understand that it is now in power to continue the process of destruction of industry which it began in 1997. It is reaping the rewards of its role in destroying the former champion of the economy of our island… and just for the sake of politics.