The tiny Windward Islands are composed of the islands of St Lucia, Dominca and St Vincent and the Grenadines. There are approximately 4000 banana producers in the Windward Islands today - the majority in St Lucia - with a total of 3,702 hectares of land under cultivation; the average farm is a little under a hectare. Approximately 45% of these small producers are women.
More than 20,000 of 25,000 farmers have gone out of business since 1992. Low retail prices for bananas coupled with ever lowering import tariff levels for non-ACP bananas entering the EU* have spelt disaster for small scale banana producers in the Windwards. Producers have also been hit by regular natural disasters including hurricanes and droughts which have temporarily wiped out production and halted exports.
These issues have had a significant negative social and economic impact on families, communities and the overall economies of the islands, including an increase in unemployment (over 30% in most islands) and related social problems.
Of the remaining farmers, most are now Fairtrade certified and this has transformed the lives and businesses of these small banana farmers. Fairtrade guarantees a minimum price that covers the real costs of production, high environmental standards that reduce pesticide use as well as a social premium invested by farmer groups in their local communities. The Fairtrade premium has funded schools, health facilities, roads, pipe borne water, equipment for disadvantaged groups and provided disaster relief.
Some 80% of all bananas produced in the Windwards are sold in the UK and these farmers depend upon access to the British market to sell their Fairtrade fruit and so Banana Link's Support Caribbean Bananas campaign is asking supermarkets to make long-term commitments to sourcing bananas from the Windward Islands.
We work closely with The Windward Islands Farmers' Association (WINFA), a non governmental organization that represents, protects, and promotes the interests of small farmers in St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and Martinique. Banana Link are also Charity Stakeholders of the Fairtrade Foundation.
Support Caribbean Bananas Campaign
Caribbean bananas are grown on small family owned farms using more sustainable methods of production than those used on the huge monoculture plantations in Latin America. The livelihoods of these small producers are highly dependant on continued trade with the UK.
Caribbean farmers simply cannot compete with the 'cheap' Latin American bananas produced with low paid labour. If the banana trade in the Windward Islands is allowed to die, along with it will go the efforts of family farmers over the last few years to secure their livelihoods through fair trade.
The FAIRTRADE Mark carried by almost all bananas from the Windwards guarantees they have been traded at a price which ensures the grower can make a decent living, pay their workers properly and make a contribution to their local community. It is thanks to the support of British consumers that small farmers in the Caribbean have been able to build this major fair trade initiative from nothing in the last decade.
* Bananas from the Windward Islands (as part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific states that many European countries had a colonial relationship with) traditionally had preferential access into the European Union (EU). This meant that they did not have to pay the tariff - a tax - on bananas sold to the UK that was charged on the bananas exported from Latin America. However, following a bitter trade dispute in the World Trade Organisation (which sets rules for how member countries trade with each other) the regime governing how bananas are imported into the EU has changed. It is now even harder for the Caribbean farmers to compete in the international market.
Contact Banana Link to order Support Caribbean Banana postcards to share with family and friends or to hand out at events. These can be addressed to the manager of your local supermarket asking that they ensure that they source Fairtrade bananas grown by small scale family farmers in the Windward Islands.
Read Case study: Windwards Islands small farmers, from World Banana Forum Working Group 03 on Labour Rights - Gender research.
Read about what happens when you lose a trade war. Renwick Rose, Coordinator of WINFA describes how Europe is shafting the Caribbean.
Read 'Banana Wars' - an excellent article by Joanna Blythman published in the Observer in 2005, following her visit to the Windwards.
Visit the Fairtrade Foundation website to learn more about WINFA and to read the stories of some WINFA members.