THE RURAL UNKNOWN - The Days of Green Gold

For millennials like myself, ‘Green Gold’ doesn’t mean much. I would hear my parents casually talk about it or see my grandfather swell with pride when it came up but, for all I knew, it was a place in Babonneau where there was a green house (forgive my naïveté). So, what really is this whole Green Gold phenomenon? Well, I finally understood.

Banana farming brought in so much money that it was equated to trading gold hence the name ‘Green Gold’. To be precise it provided employment for about 10,000 Saint Lucian farmers and at one point earned up to $87.6M for our local economy. This industry transformed rural, low-income families into thriving middle-income households and played a huge role in the development of political parties, trade unions and our eventual independence.  

At first, I admit, even though I was raised in a rural community and I am the product of farmers (my grandparents on both sides), I complained that these farmers were not innovative and they were harbouring the past. But when I got older and saw former farmers from the Green Gold era, who boasted of buying their first house or paying for university tuition all from bananas, now carrying gallons of water from standpipes to their homes or loading up produce on minibuses hoping to make enough to cover the cost of transport, I began to wonder what really happened to ‘Green Gold’.

Let’s be honest, “Green Gold” was born out of neo-colonial need. Essentially our economy was shaped to suit the requirements of a colonial power and what resulted was a highly specialized economy that focused on just one export commodity: bananas. It’s simple: British housewives loved bananas and Saint Lucia could produce them. Furthermore, Geest, a British firm, agreed to not only provide transportation for our product from the islands to the United Kingdom but was also the main marketing partner (only for the small cost of paying farmers retroactively). Add in the protectionist policies set in the Lomé Convention and you had the recipe for a perfect “neo-colonial economy”.

For forty years bananas thrived, until lobbying efforts to dismantle protectionist policies by American multinational corporations like Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte ultimately led to Green Gold losing to dollar bananas (Latin American bananas). Nineteen years later, farming has never recovered; after all, the daily cost of a Saint Lucian banana farmer is the monthly salary of a Latin American farm worker.

We could blame our farmers for their over-reliance on one commodity, but what are our roles in their demise? One could be our complete insensitivity to the fact that about one-tenth of our population’s financial stability changed overnight and we still have not found a way out of it.

It’s a hard pill to swallow when the most successful arrangement in our economy that benefitted the lower, rural class was purely neo-colonial in nature. The question is: are we ever going to come up with an economic arrangement that can top Green Gold?

Helen's Daughters (HD) is a non-profit organization that focuses on the economic development of rural women through improved market access, adaptive agricultural techniques, and capacity-building.

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