Agriculture Minister Matthew Walter has outlined several measures to be introduced by the Government in support of the banana sector under a “banana recovery and sustainability plan”.
Walter, who addressed a press conference yesterday, said these measures are expected to boost the sector by creating avenues to enhance productivity and farm income.
“…Provide $1 million in Phase One through the AID Bank for lending to farmers on a 50 percent loan/50 percent grant scheme at about $2.5 percent interest. This will go towards farm rehabilitation, replanting and expansion according to the needs and willingness of farmers,” he stated.
“We expect that about 535 acres will be improved to higher levels of production by year end. This intervention is phase one of a comprehensive banana recovery and sustainability plan,” Walter said.
The minister stated that a possible loan amount reduction and farmers who may be unable to access the 50/50 loan grant scheme will be supported. In addition, inputs to the tune of $500,000 will be provided to farmers.
“…Under the diversification and the support of horticulture programs Government continues to provide plant materials, technical assistance, new technologies and financing to farmers for adaptation to new farming systems. These programs amount to some $4 million and will support farmers who are opting out of banana production to alternative crop production,” he added.
Walter boasted that the benefits of such programs have already manifested itself with the non-banana sector, recording significant growth in 2009.
He mentioned that a continuation of the subsidization of fertilizers program has recently been approved in Parliament. He assured that the cost of fertilizers will not exceed $45 per 25 kilograms bag.
“These measures are designed to reach as many farmers as possible while at the same time indicating to farmers and the industry as a whole that it is by more businesslike approaches to farming the industry will survive,” he added.
“In this regard, I call on banana industry stake holders and leaders to re-examine the rational for the level of fragmentation, inefficiencies and duplications that now exists. We must admit that this situation has only served to further confuse the issues surrounding a sustainable way forward for the banana industry,” he said.
Walter guaranteed that this was just the beginning of a series of measures aimed at enhancing the sub-sector and agriculture industry.
He also assured that his ministry and the government have always demonstrated support to the sub-sector in diverse ways and “at no time loose site of the need to support the sub sector.”
“It is particularly important to note that a significant portion of government investments in agriculture came directly from local funds, which is a departure from the norm,when past investment in the sector came exclusively from donor funding,” Walter said.