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Slipping Away

Slipping Away: Banana Politics and Fair Trade in the Eastern Caribbean

Mark Moberg
Series: Dislocations
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Slipping Away
    Book Description:

    During the 1990s, the Eastern Caribbean was caught in a bitter trade dispute between the US and EU over the European banana market. When the World Trade Organization rejected preferential access for Caribbean growers in 1998 the effect on the region's rural communities was devastating. This volume examines the "banana wars" from the vantage point of St. Lucia's Mabouya Valley, whose recent, turbulent history reveals the impact of global forces. The author investigates how the contemporary structure of the island's banana industry originated in colonial policies to create a politically "stable" peasantry, followed by politicians' efforts to mobilize rural voters. These political strategies left farmers dependent on institutional and market protection, leaving them vulnerable to any alteration in trade policy. This history gave way to a new harsh reality, in which neoliberal policies privilege price and quantity over human rights and the environment. However, against these challenges, the author shows how the rural poor have responded in creative ways, including new social movements and Fair Trade farming, in order to negotiate a stronger position for themselves in the in a shifting global economy.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-874-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xi)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xii-xv)
  7. Map of St. Lucia
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  8. Chapter One Linking the Personal, the Local, and the Global
    (pp. 1-16)

    My first visit to the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia ended on an un-settling and nearly tragic note. It was the end of May, 2000, and my wife and I were winding up a month of preliminary research on the country’s banana industry. On the Windward Islands of St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, and Grenada, banana production is unique in that it rests almost entirely in the hands of smallholding family farmers. Unlike Central and South America, where bananas are grown on estates often comprising thousands of acres,¹ most Windward Island farmers make a living on plots averaging just...

  9. Chapter Two An Island in History
    (pp. 17-40)

    Scattered along an arc from Puerto Rico to Venezuela, the Lesser Antilles appear as specks on a map of the Caribbean Sea and Western Atlantic. The southernmost chain in the archipelago, the Windward Islands, consists of volcanic peaks that climb abruptly from the ocean floor to elevations of more than three thousand feet above sea level. Traces of the seismic activity that created the islands can be found in the sulphurous vents and hot springs that rupture the surface on each of the Windwards. On nearly every island these volcanic sites are known by the place name Soufrière, a vestige...

  10. Chapter Three Banananomics: Work and Identity among Island Growers
    (pp. 41-64)

    Asked what they like about growing bananas for a living, St. Lucian farmers almost invariably speak of the independence it offers them. The ability to earn a livelihood without being subject to the arbitrary demands of others is a widely held value in Caribbean society. In this respect, many of the observations that Browne (2005) makes of the importance of personal autonomy in Martinican Creole culture apply equally well to St. Lucia and the other Windward Islands. A desire for independence is as deeply rooted in West Indians’ historical experience as is their famously intense a attach-ment to land. Stripped...

  11. Chapter Four St. Lucia in the Global Banana Trade
    (pp. 65-94)

    Imagine for a moment that you are Calixte Jn Baptiste, a 59-year-old resident of Derniere Riviere, a settlement of about three hundred people in the Mabouya Valley.¹ Your farm occupies three acres of land on the steep slopes that rise from the northern end of the valley floor. It is not, even by island standards, an optimal place to grow bananas. You are reminded of that fact every two weeks when you, your adult sons, and two hired workers harvest fruit for sale. Even under the best of circumstances it is difficult to climb and descend farm trails on a...

  12. Chapter Five Banana Politics
    (pp. 95-109)

    Long before the WTO issued its ruling on EU trade policy, changes in the European market had created economic and political repercussions of seismic proportions in the Eastern Caribbean. How these changes were experienced in St. Lucia’s Mabouya Valley, and their dramatic political consequences at the national level, are considered at some length in this chapter. While banana farmers throughout the Windwards encountered common adversity in the global economy during the 1990s, local responses to these conditions were nowhere as dramatic as in St. Lucia. There the impact of declining prices lay bare societal fault lines of class and culture...

  13. Chapter Six Privatization and Fragmentation
    (pp. 110-128)

    The strategies employed by the Banana Salvation Committee to win the allegiance of St. Lucia’s banana growers were by no means novel, rooted as they were in the proven political tactics of John Compton and George Charles in the 1950s. Since the origins of mass electoral politics in that decade, populist leaders have routinely appealed to rural wage workers and small-scale farmers by inveighing against the island’s “full belly, big money men.” Under this label they have, at various times, subsumed merchants, employers, large-scale planters, Geest and other foreign companies, “industry bureaucrats,” and government officials. Initially representing themselves as independent...

  14. Chapter Seven Survivors
    (pp. 129-152)

    Any observer of the Windward Islands banana industry cannot help but be struck by its complex bureaucracy and redundant layers of administration. As seen in the previous chapter, this administrative redundancy arises less from the functional requirements of production and marketing than from the myriad political and economic interests that permeate the industry. These interests and the conflicts that they have spawned show no sign of waning, even as the productive base on which the entire superstructure rests has shrunk to a fraction of its former size (see Figures 7.1 and 7.2). While the number of commercially active growers on...

  15. Chapter Eight Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
    (pp. 153-171)

    The histories of the Caribbean and Europe are inextricably bound with a nefarious if profitable triangle trade. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a continuous circuit of goods, labor, and capital linked Africa with the West Indies and England in ways that generated much of the wealth for the industrialization of the North Atlantic world. Slaves taken from Africa were deposited in the Americas to produce sugar, rum, tobacco, and cotton for export to England. Profits from the sale of these commodities provided the investment capital required for the English factory system. In turn, England’s West Indian and African colonies...

  16. Chapter Nine Fair Trade in Discourse and Practice
    (pp. 172-193)

    If the growth in the drug trade and related violence represent the grim underside of neoliberal globalization in the Caribbean, other local responses to the banana industry’s decline may offset its corrosive effects for farmers and the communities in which they live. Since 2000, when it was widely believed that the WTO ruling would prove the death knell for farmers already battered by the Single European Market and rising production costs, Caribbean banana growers and European consumers have embraced an new market initiative not guided by the principle of global price competition. As defined by a coalition of European organizations...

  17. Chapter Ten Fair Trade and Conventional Farming in the Mabouya Valley
    (pp. 194-219)

    Apart from the frenetic activity of harvest days, banana farms in the Mabouya Valley are serenely quiet places that belie the political and economic turmoil experienced by the region since 1992. Employing neither the cableways nor the spray irrigation systems found in Central America, the only sounds heard on most valley farms, apart from the conversations of those who work on them, are the rustle of the breeze and the sporadic drumming of raindrops on banana leaves. Since the 1980s, when farmers replaced a good deal of hand weeding with herbicides, even the steady chopping rhythm of cutlasses clearing undergrowth...

  18. Chapter Eleven Conclusion: A New World or a New Kind of Dependence?
    (pp. 220-229)

    More than 2,000 feet above sea level, in the cool, mist-enshrouded hills ten miles east of Roseau, Dominica, two Rastafarians cultivate potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, and a variety of herbs for sale in the town’s markets. Their farm clings to the edge of a steep slope. Its fields are painstakingly terraced and layered with green manure to prevent erosion. Conrad “Bull” Barrow and his friend Leonel “Lion” Williams grew bananas for export on land at lower elevations until declining prices led them to abandon the crop in 1994. The partners describe themselves as among the handful of former banana growers still...

  19. References
    (pp. 230-242)
  20. Index
    (pp. 243-250)