Banana growers call for urgent help

5th March 2021 | Eativity editors

Australian banana growers who have lost up to 100 percent of their crop to cyclonic winds associated with Tropical Cyclone Niran are calling for urgent assistance from the Queensland and federal governments. In a devastating blow for growers already battling ongoing low prices and worker shortages, most Innisfail district banana growers are now looking at between three and nine months without an income.

Boogan fifth-generation grower Charles Camuglia lost all of his crop to extreme wind on March 1. “This is 100 percent of our income,” he says. “It’s going to be hard.”

In addition to the clean-up and recovery, Camuglia holds very real concerns about being able to retain workers or find them once back in production.

“I’d like to see the government step up and put something towards helping us growers keep staff through times like this,” he says. “We’ve come off the back of a good 12-24 months of pretty average pricing, so there’s no money in the kitty to be splashing around.”

Adding insult to injury: banana growers were already struggling. For some this may be one blow too many.

Stephen Lowe, Chair of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC), has echoed these thoughts and described the situation as a “double-edged sword”.

“Growers have been trying to get as many workers as possible – still not enough,” he says. “Now they’re concerned they won’t be able to pay them or find them again when needed.”

Tony Alcock, a second-generation grower from Innisfail, estimates they’ll have to rest around 80 percent of their workers after losing 50 percent of their hanging fruit.

“What we really need is for Australians to go out and buy bananas to support Aussie growers,” he says. “It’s nature’s best snack and it even comes with its own packaging.”

Growers are calling for assistance to help them pay and retain workers.

The ABGC is calling for growers to be considered for funding under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, in particular the Special Disaster Recovery Grants. The ABGC is also keen for government to provide worker retention assistance to the worst-affected growers.

For Gurjeet and Kuldip Singh, that assistance will be the difference between them leaving the industry or rebuilding again.

“We need financial support to get us back on our feet,” Gurjeet says. “Farming’s in our blood. Before Dad came to Australia, he was doing it back in India. We don’t know anything else. No income and trying to rebuild? It’s not possible.”

Lowe emphasises the best thing Aussies can do for the industry right now is to keep buying Australian bananas: “Remember, we’ve had some rough times in certain parts of the growing area,” he says. “So if you see a banana on the shelf that’s got a slight mark on it, pick it up – it’ll still be great on the inside.”

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