Fair Trade Saves the Caribbean Windward Islands

“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

Fair trade has plenty of success stories but it’s rare to hear a statement this dramatic.  However, the Caribbean Windward Islands rely so heavily on banana exports that when an international trade dispute began to cause banana exports to decline, the economic systems of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica were put at risk.  Fortunately, due to the actions of fair trade organizations, the situation has stabilized and banana exports are still a viable part of the Windward Islands overall economic picture.  90% of banana growers on these islands are now part of a fair trade organization.

Banana exports became a key part of the Windward Islands economies when beet sugar production in the US and Europe began to reduce demand for cane sugar.  In the Windward Islands, bananas are grown on small farms, with fair wages, and low use of agrochemicals.  These factors, combined with often difficult weather conditions, had begun to make it difficult for Windward Islands’ bananas to compete with lower cost bananas produced in other areas of Latin America under less favorable conditions for workers.  From 1992 to 2009, the export value of the Islands’ bananas fell from $147M to $45M.

Windward Islands Farmers’ Association (WINFA) began working with farmers in the 1990’s.  Representing the farmers, WINFA won legal decisions which allowed them to bypass traditional exporters, take control of the supply chain, and increase the portion of total export revenue provided to the farmers.  By guaranteeing a minimum price per box of bananas and providing additional fair trade premium funds for community development, fair trade has contributed to meaningful improvements in the lives of farmers as well as helping to stabilize the banana export industry within the Windward Islands.

“In this era of competitive global trade, small – scale farmers like ours have little or no chance of survival without the kind of market intervention that is provided through Fairtrade. Not only does Fairtrade guarantee a fair price to our farmers, but the social premium that is generated through the Fairtrade sales provides invaluable support for projects in rural communities throughout the Windward Islands.” – Dr Kenny D Anthony, Prime Minister of St Lucia

How fair trade premiums have supported banana farmers

  • Increase in direct revenue from sales of bananas
  • Repairing hurricane damage to farms after Hurricanes Dean and Tomas
  • Bulk purchase of fertilizers when too expensive for individual farmers
  • Purchase of medical equipment and hospital improvements
  • Improvements to schools and transportation

Banana exports are still in jeopardy due to drastic weather events (drought and hurricane) but it is clear that fair trade has played a significant positive role in the Islands.  To help, buy fair trade bananas!

For more details about the situation in the Windward Islands, download the 2012 WINFA Report from the Fairtrade Foundation.

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