The Ministry of Agriculture should mitigate the losses to farmers if fields of banana and plantain must be destroyed because of Black Sigatoka

Dear Editor,

I refer to the article captioned, ‘Plantain farmers hit by infestation -Agriculture Ministry “studying” the issue’ in the KN of September 26.  More than a year ago, I raised the issue of the threat posed to the plantain farmers of Region Three by the disease Black Sigatoka.  At that time I was host of the PNCR’s ‘Nation Watch’ programme on HBTV Channel Nine.  The issue was raised repeatedly on this programme with no response offered by the Ministry of Agriculture.  I felt that the non-response was typical of an uncaring administration keen on covering its tracks.

This admission by Minis-ter Robert Persaud brings some measure of hope that a solution is being contemplated. However, it also raises some questions.

The Minister is quoted as saying: “… that this situation only exists in the Tuschen area.” This is after the Minister was quoted as saying: “… a consultant was in the country for two weeks to analyse the situation.”  There is a contradiction here.  If the Tuschen area is the only affected area, then could someone please explain why the consultant did not visit Tuschen?  Could someone please tell the farmers why the consultant, who I believe came from India, visited Hog Island, Parika Back, Canals Polder, farming communities on the East Bank of Demerara, farming areas in Region Five and other areas to “analyse the situation”?

My information which is several months old is that Black Sigatoka has been giving plantain and banana farmers living hell all across Guyana.  Hardest hit are areas such as the entire West Demerara, all of the East Bank Essequibo and all of the Essequibo Islands except Hamburg Island.  Recently, Hamburg Island has reportedly started to see signs of infestation as well.

The Ministry of Agricul-ture staff must come clean with the Minister.  They must provide him with up-to-date information so that when he speaks to farmers he does so from an informed perspective.  The Minister can only benefit by being in touch with the reality and seriousness of the situation. He will thus be better positioned to recommend appropriate and necessary interventions on behalf of farmers to cabinet for immediate approval.

The recent allocation of a significant sum of money for hitherto unspecified and undetermined intervention(s) for the rice industry is, I am certain, welcomed by rice farmers. In the same light, there may very well be a strong case for a similar consideration in favour of plantain and banana farmers.  Speaking about Black Sigatoka, the Minister made it clear that: “… really there is only one way you can deal with this problem and that is to destroy.” Destruction of thousands of acres of plantain and banana fields across Guyana surely warrants some intervention to mitigate major losses which farmers will suffer. We await the release of the recently conducted study and the government’s commitment to the farmers.

Yours faithfully,
Mervyn Williams, MP

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