Banana growers in the eastern Caribbean have made a dramatic comeback since Hurricane Dean ravaged their crops a year ago, rebuilding farms with help from island governments who see their industry as a key to social stability.
Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent are now exporting about 1,800 tons (1,600 metric tons) of bananas a week _ 50 percent more than before the August 2007 hurricane, Fremont Lawrence, a spokesman for the Windward Island Banana Development and Exporting Company, said Friday.
"After Dean, there would have been a lot of replanting," said Lawrence, whose company ships and markets the bananas to Europe.
Damage from the storm was so severe that officials initially expressed fear the industry would not recover. But the poor, tiny islands made it a priority to shore up a sector that sustains hundreds of families in rural areas.
"Crimes tend to flourish when there are no jobs, and we need to ensure a level of stability," said Gregory Avril, who has led a post-Dean recovery program in St. Lucia backed by US$6.5 million in government aid.
The storm did the most damage in Dominica, wiping out nearly all its banana crops. Exports from the former British colony dropped from 3,075 tons (2,800 metric tons) in the first quarter of 2007 to 821 tons (745 metric tons) over the same period this year.
But farmers in Dominica say they are beginning to put the storm behind them.
"It was really bad after the hurricane, but things are picking up and looking good," said Amos Wiltshire, who rebuilt his farmhouse and replanted an acre and a half of banana fields after the hurricane.
Wiltshire, who is also a coordinator for the National Fair Trade Organization of Dominica, said that organization and the government provided assistance that helped the local recovery.
He said his biggest challenge has been attracting workers who can earn more in the construction and tourism sectors.
Associated Press writer Mike Melia contributed to this story from San Juan, Puerto Rico.