UK retailers have been urged not to abandon Jamaican banana suppliers left reeling by the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Gustav. The hurricane, which swept across the Caribbean island last week, decimated a banana industry that had only just begun to recover after the destruction caused by last year’s Hurricane Dean.

The Jamaican Producers Group, which represents 90% of banana production for export on the island, reported that Gustav had damaged 80% of its crop.

Fears were expressed that overseas buyers would abandon the Jamaican banana fields once and for all.

“We trust that British retailers will not give up hope of being able to sell Jamaican Fairtrade bananas because of this latest act of climatic injustice,” said Alistair Smith, Banana Link’s International Coordinator.

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “At the moment, the show of support from our key customer, JP Fresh, has been warm and very good,” said Jeffrey Hall, chief executive of JPG.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer, which sources its bananas from a number of countries, including Jamaica, said that it would continue to source bananas from Jamaica once production on the island was up and running again.

But the hurricane couldn’t have come at a worse time. Jamaica’s banana export industry currently faces increased global pressure.

Latin America narrowly missed out on securing cuts in EU trade tariffs, which would have benefited South American producers at the expense of West Indian, African and Pacific countries.

Although the proposal fell through with the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in July, a deal could still be on the cards.

In recent months, the Jamaican Government has been vocal about its fears for the future of the industry. Earlier this month, Jamaican Agriculture Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, said he saw the future for the island’s banana industry lying primarily in value-added local consumption.