Photo Essay: Yes, We Have Some Bananas

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of the lesser known island nations in the Caribbean.

However, it received international publicity when Disney chose, because of its unspoiled beauty, to film the blockbuster movie The Pirates of the Caribbean there in 2003.

While the movie perpetuates the image of paradise, the realities play out quite differently in the lives of Vincentians, who are fighting for economic survival against international trade policies and multi-national corporations. This is particularly true for those in the banana industry, which has long been the economic mainstay of the country.

Because of the nation’s colonial ties to Europe and its inability to compete in the global market, the European Union offered the banana trade a fair degree of protection. But with the emergence of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its emphasis on free trade, the United States, led by Chiquita Brands International, called into question the protections afforded to the industry here and on other Caribbean islands.

This was the subject of a contentious dispute between the United States and the European Union. The WTO ruled in favor of the United States, thus removing or minimizing the protection extended to the industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other Eastern Caribbean islands.

This decision seriously threatens an already vulnerable banana industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which can’t compete on any level with banana production in Latin America. This island nation is small. Its geographic location makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and prolonged droughts. Further, the industry here is largely made up of small-scale farmers who work roughly two acres of often hilly terrain, which makes it impossible to use machines to aid in harvesting. This means banana production is labor intensive and more expensive than in Latin America.

As the banana industry declines, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is turning to tourism as a means of economic development, and the U.S. market is a main target. By capitalizing on the popularity of The Pirates of the Caribbean, they capitalize on typical Western stereotypes about how paradise should look. For tourists, that is. Life for the banana farmers is anything but, as illustrated in these images.