ROSEAU, DOMINICA – The Government of Dominica is making EC$1M available in the first instance to banana farmers so as to boost production.
The new loan and grant facility available at the Dominica Agricultural Industrial and Development Bank (DAIDB) was announced at the Financial Centre on Wednesday with the Ministry of Agriculture having the funds accessible as part of the Banana Recovery, Sustainability and Diversification Plan’s Phase 1.
Agriculture Minister, Matthew Walter explained, “The Ministry is considering a programme which should target 48 percent, that is, the top 161 farmers, of the active farmers producing about five tonnes per acre per year and increasing their acreage from 507 acres to 805 acres.”
The programme will include rehabilitation, replanting and expansion of the crop based on farmer needs assessment at a time when the sector is plagued with underproduction and a decreasing farmer population. The average acreage of the top 161 farmers is approximately 4.5 to 5 acres. There are fewer than 350 banana farmers on the island.
As such $2,918 will be granted for two acres for rehabilitation; $8, 911 for two acres the purpose replanting and $4,455.50 for one acre to be used for expansion.
The total investment for the top producing 161 farms amounts to $2,621,805.50.
According to the minister, the banana sector is currently under producing with the average weekly production standing at approximately 8, 300 boxes.
The required volumes for the United Kingdom (U.K.) market includes 13, 000 boxes and 5, 000 boxes for the regional market.
“In essence, in the first year we expect to rehabilitate 322 acres at $469,798, replanting amounts to $1,434,671 and expansion of 161 acres amounts to $717,335.50. In aggregate, this year, the first year, we expect to invest in the banana sub sector $2.6 million. This is the first phase of the plan and we will ensure that the funds are being put to good use so that the desired out come is attained”, Walter noted.
The Ministry will deploy monitoring officers to ensure that the funds are well channeled and that the required performance is maintained. He assured farmers that as soon as desired production levels are met, the government will make more funds available.
Technical officers in the Ministry of Agriculture are currently developing a National Adaptation Strategy to deal with the new trade rules governing the banana trade with Europe.
“We are clear that farmers are in need of assistance, and that government is responding and addressing some of such needs. [The facility] will target banana producers who have remained in the industry and who will best utilize this form of support to increase production and to meet the quality demand by the Fairtrade and regional markets.”
Prime Minster and Finance Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit acknowledged agriculture as being critical to the country’s economic prosperity and recognized the investment as vital while resources are scarce.
Skerrit pointed out, “This is a fifty-fifty arrangement which means that if a farmer has $60,000 to invest in his banana farm, he will get $30,000 as a loan and $30, 000 as a grant. This is a significant investment because the government in itself is putting in direct grant funds into the banana industry.”
However, Skerrit expressed his government’s hope that the farmers will now feel incentives the banana farmers to go out and produce.
He asserted, “What we hope this program will achieve, is increased production. Farmers cannot do business as usual, we cannot have a one acre plot and put in one ton of bananas or two tons, we have to ensure that farmers move to ten tons of bananas per acre if we are to survive the very difficult banana market that we have in Europe.”