Windward Islands’ “Banana Man” Renwick Rose wins Guardian International Development Achievement award

Despite his 40 years of work in civil society development and trade justice, Renwick Rose is not a globally recognised name. Yet, among the small farming communities of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean, he is a celebrated figurehead affectionately known as the “Banana Man”. In the 1990s, Rose spotted the value and necessity of organisation and cooperation at a time when the banana trade was entering a downwards spiral. He earned the trust of small-scale farmers who were struggling to make it onto the supermarket shelves and guided them through the process of Fair Trade Certification. The establishment of the Windward Island National Farmers’ Network Association (WINFA) has generated security and progress which radiates out into the wider community. Through their partnership with Fair Trade, the WINFA farmers earn a premium of a dollar for each box of bananas, which is invested democratically back into the community. In this way, the social, educational and trade infrastructure of the islands has begun to bloom. Rose’s attempt at retirement in 2010 was thwarted by the devastating impact of the hurricane that destroyed farms across St Lucia and St Vincent. He returned immediately to lead the farming community on the uphill slope towards recovery, and, with his support, Windward Island bananas were back on the supermarket shelves within eight months.

The Guardian has published an essay written by Rose to acknowledge his award. Here is Rose’s essay:

What an honour for a simple man from a small-island chain with a population more than 100 times smaller than that of the London metropolis. To go on to win such a prestigious award is nothing short of miraculous

To have been considered for nomination for this award, much more becoming a finalist, could not have been further from my thoughts five or six months ago. What an honour for a simple man from a small-island chain with a population more than 100 times smaller than that of the London metropolis. To go on to win such a prestigious award is nothing short of miraculous.

The award makes an important statement. In my case it is a validation of the long years of work with, and on behalf of, our embattled farmers in the Eastern Caribbean islands – farmers with tiny holdings based on family labour. In the case of the organisation with which I have worked these past 22 years, the Windward Islands farmers Association (WINFA), special mention must go to the struggles of our women farmers. Many of them are heads of single-parent households, whose lives represent living chapters in an unending story of the pursuit of life with equal opportunities, dignity and honour.

My own part in this noble effort has been to support, to help to give organisational form and leadership and to try and be a channel through which the long muffled voices of our farmers can at long last echo across the world in their clamour for justice. We have worked together since the 1970s, fighting for the right to access to and ownership of the land. On this land, our farmers produce, feeding our people and providing valuable foreign exchange which has fuelled our still limited social and economic development.

The successes achieved in land reform, and the end of what was in reality modern estate serfdom, brought with it new challenges. The glory of the heyday of the banana industry, in the 80s and early 90s, masked some realities in production, trade and the environment which were to be brutally exposed. The banana model of those days was based on unfettered preferential access to the UK market. Its production methods involved widespread use of dangerous chemical compounds – as harmful to our lovely physical environment as it was to the health of the farmers and workers in the industry and to their families.

The institution of the Single European Market in 1993 and the subsequent changes in the terms of access to the European market has had profound implications for not just the banana industry, but for agriculture, rural development and for the very economies of our islands. Most of these experiences have been negative. They have been manifested in the removal of preferential access, new trade and environmental regulations and standards that have imposed further burdens on small farmers without commensurate financial rewards. They have also included banana “wars” between the multi-national giants who still dominate the global industry and internecine supermarket price-cutting battles. All of these factors had disastrous consequences for our farmers in a vicious “race to the bottom”.

But, ever an optimist, I prefer to look at the positives which have emerged in the farming community and their impact on the wider society as a result. For me, the very fact that we could get farmers, most of whom only got a basic primary education, to engage the global giants in a battle right into the corridors of the European Commission, the hallowed halls of Whitehall, Washington and Geneva (headquarters of the World Trade Organisation, the infamous WTO), is a major achievement. True, we have neither won the battles so far, nor been able to bring the “wars” to a satisfactory end, but we have enriched our experience many times over in the process.

I have undying admiration for our farmers who have had to combat both man-made and natural disasters and to demonstrate their resilience year after year as well as their commitment to their just cause. Our farmers have responded to the search for alternative trading arrangements, grasping the Fairtrade concept with fervour. They are making it a shining example to all those who could see no further than the free trade models of modern globalisation which have caused such havoc and massive social dislocation in today’s world. They have responded to the calls for mobilisation, and have taken their demands to their political leaders, to the negotiators for the trade agreements which have impacted on their lives and provided the ammunition for WINFA’s robust advocacy work.

The International Development Achievement Award 2011 is therefore as much theirs as it is a vindication of my own humble contribution. At the same time, it must be used as a clarion call to awaken those who have since consigned the Caribbean to the footnotes of international development efforts. In a sense we have become the victims of our own success in achieving social stability and preserving democratic practices and the observation of human rights. Today we are judged by economic criteria such as per capita GDP. These criteria are absurd to a female farmer struggling on her own to raise and educate five children while trying to comply with the exacting standards of the British supermarkets which retail her produce. They are equally absurd to young people in rural communities facing unemployment and despair as a result of unjust trade policies and financial shenanigans.

The farmers of the Caribbean are calling to the international community to live up to its responsibilities to ensure a fair deal for all. Our vulnerability to natural disasters is dramatically demonstrated year after year and the threat of climate change and its harmful effects can have enormous implications for us. We are deeply honoured to have been recognised through the Award but for us it must become a platform on which we can all build and collectively play our part in the achievement of a just and sustainable world.

For the original reports go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/achievementsaward/shortlisted-nominess-2011?intcmp=239 and http://www.guardian.co.uk/achievementsaward/1?intcmp=239

One thought on “Windward Islands’ “Banana Man” Renwick Rose wins Guardian International Development Achievement award

  1. Congratulations on your award,very well deserved!
    I hope that you and your family are all in good health.
    Seasons Greetings and best wishes to you all,Jill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s