Day 5 and reggae is playing on the car stereo as we swing around the winding roads up the Windwards coast of St Vincent. We wind our way between the banana trees along a bumpy track and up the hill, passing a lush array of trees including breadfruit, guava, cashew and passion fruit, before arriving at a shining building painted in the green and blue colours of the FAIRTRADE Mark.. This is Montaque, in St Vincent, it’s the brand name of a range of jams, jellies and juices, but for the banana farmers of St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent it’s also a window to the future - their first venture into food processing, as a way of diversifying away from just the sale of the raw fruit.
Two years ago the farmers of the three islands pooled some of their premium money to buy this tiny factory. Inside, boiling guava jelly is creating a steamy working environment for Hazzard Joseph and Cornelia Allen, two farmers who, having harvested on Sunday or Monday, work here during the rest of the week. Cornelia tells us that this is a great way for the farmers to make good use of
the other fruits that grow on their farms, which during the harvesting season are so abundant that many of them simply rot in the fields.
However, Montaque is more than just a factory to the farmers. With the Government of St Vincent now pursuing a major strategy to build up tourism on the country, the farmers have come up with an idea they’re calling ‘agro-tourism’. Claude Cambridge, the General Manager tells us that they’re creating some nature trails through the property, and turning one of the buildings on the site into a small education centre and café in order to attract day trippers from the cruise ships, providing a one-stop adventure through all the different fruits of St Vincent, ending with the opportunity to buy from the range of delicious produce.
People keep telling the Caribbean banana growers that they need to diversify. These farmers have vision and energy to make it happen. They’ve already invested a substantial amount from their Fairtrade premiums, but they still need resources to upgrade the processing equipment, install a small café and build the nature trails and information boards. A recent European diversification fund for the Caribbean just closed, ironically with Governments
returning several million Euros back to Europe unspent, whilst projects like this were crying out for support.
We stock up on a case of chutney, passion fruit juice and jellies, all inspired to take the products home for friends and family - a perfect tourist gift with a great story behind it. These farmers might be onto something - not just jam today, but a better future for tomorrow.
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