Windward Islands Farmers' Association (WINFA)

Windward Islands: Dominica, St Lucia, and St Vincent



Children at the new pre-school in Bense

©Simon Rawles


There is certainly no doubt about it - Fairtrade has saved the Islands. Without it we would be in desperate trouble.
Cornelius Lynch, Secretary of the Fairtrade Committee, St Lucia


 

Read the WINFA Case Study updated Jan 2012 (PDF) here

 

Background


The banana trade has been crucial to the national economies of the Windward Islands since it was established more than 50 years ago by the former British colonial power to supply the UK market. Bananas have provided a direct living for thousands of small-scale producers, accounting for up to 50% of the Windward Islands’ total export revenue, thereby providing crucial foreign exchange for investment in social and economic development. 

While EU imports of bananas from Latin America and other countries were restricted by a system of quotas and tariffs, Windward Islands bananas were traditionally allowed tariff-free entry to the EU market to protect their market share, in recognition of their unique economic importance and the historic cultural links. But Latin American exporters, encouraged by US-based banana companies, repeatedly complained to the WTO that this preferential treatment unfairly restricted their income, despite the Windward Islands only having a tiny share of the global banana trade.

A series of adverse WTO rulings resulted in the Windward Islands’ share of the UK banana market declining from 45% in 1992 to less than 9% in 2009, forced out by lower-cost bananas from Latin America and, increasingly, from West Africa. This was compounded by ‘banana price wars’ in UK supermarkets which pushed prices down further. As well as the significant loss of export revenue, the number of farmers fell from 27,000 to 4,000, with high unemployment, youth unrest and poverty posing real threats to Island communities.

Fairtrade


Of the 4,000 remaining banana growers in the Windward Islands approximately 3,400 are members of the 48 Fairtrade groups across Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent.

The first small consignment of Fairtrade bananas from the Windwards was shipped to the UK in 2000. Since then volumes have grown to nearly 42,000 tonnes and the percentage of Windward Islands bananas sold to the Fairtrade market has grown from 30% in 2004 to over 90% in 2009, with more than 90% of banana growers in the Islands now members of Fairtrade groups.

Fairtrade has helped banana farmers to strengthen their organisations and regain confidence in the banana industry, which had been eroded by the long-term decline. Traditionally the farmers sold their crop to banana companies on the Islands who cut into farmers’ profits and provided few services in return. But in the face of strong resistance from banana companies, the farmers won historic legal victories in 2008 that enabled them to bypass the companies and deal directly with Winfresh, the regional banana export company.

WINFA is now responsible for the whole supply chain up to export and provides services such as the supply of fertiliser, pest and disease control, and agricultural extension, at a significantly reduced cost to the farmers. Over 100 new staff have been hired in the Islands, technical staff trained, and payment and pest control departments created.

It is only by selling their produce as Fairtrade – and receiving the Fairtrade price and premium – that the banana farmers of the Windward Islands have been able, so far, to remain in the market. The challenge now is to maintain sales to the UK Fairtrade banana market and to develop Fairtrade, regional, and other markets for additional fresh fruit such as mangoes and coconuts, along with juices and processed fruit products from the Islands. And for those farmers unable to compete in the new environment, ways must be found to diversify away from agricultural production.

Fairtrade premium use in the Windwards


As well as the Fairtrade minimum price, WINFA receives a Fairtrade premium of US$1.00 a box to invest in a wide range of business and community improvements, selected by the farmers.

Hurricane Disaster Fund
When Hurricane Dean wiped out banana production in Dominica in 2007 and caused widespread damage in St Lucia and St Vincent, farmers were able to invest premium money in quickly getting back into production by funding field rehabilitation, replanting of banana trees, provision of fertilizers, and paying labour costs.

Subsidised Fertilizers
With fuel prices rising worldwide, fertilizer prices more than doubled in 2008. Over US$200,000 was used for the bulk purchase of fertilizer without which farm yields would have been seriously compromised.


Examples of Fairtrade Premium Use in Dominica

  • When the medical store at the hospital in Roseau burnt down the opportunity was taken to replace it with a sturdy hurricane-proof building,
  • A new school bus was purchased to take village children to the school in Calibishie,
  • A new pre-school was built adjoining the primary school in Bense. 


Examples of Fairtrade Premium Use in St Lucia

  • A banana ripening centre is under development to expand sales to local market,
  • Farmers and workers receive an annual healthcare allowance of up to US$370 to cover GP visits, medicines, and costs of surgery or other treatment,
  • Sterilizing equipment was donated to Dennery Hospital,
  • Because few farmers have access to a pension, a retirement fund was set up to provide a lump sum payment on retirement,
  • A water project supplies clean water to120 villagers in Rosalie,
  • A range of community projects were funded including improvements to farm roads, tree planting, bus shelters, equipment for a retirement home, and sponsorship of sporting activities.


Examples of Fairtrade Premium Use in St Vincent

  • A new school bus was purchased for children in North Windward,
  • Refurbishment of community centres to enable the community to make greater use of them,
  • Improvement of feeder roads and bridges to give banana farmers better access to their fields and benefit all farmers located along these roads,
  • Purchase of two computers for a secondary school in Overland,
  • Support for three nurseries with equipment enabling children to rest after lunch. Purchase of toys, storybooks and tape recorders,
  • Purchase of a nebulizer for respiratory patients at a rural clinic in the north of the island,
  • Construction of two bus shelters to protect passengers from the sun and rain.


Fairtrade Foundation, updated August 2010

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