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Jamaica to trade ripe bananas with United Kingdom

Published:Wednesday | March 11, 2015 | 5:36 PM

Jamaican farmers will expand exports of bananas to the United Kingdom (UK) under a new push that will add ripe fruit to the line-up, alongside plans to negotiate new shipping arrangements.

Under the current State-backed system, green bananas for cooking are sold to wholesalers and retailers in three main markets - Cayman Islands, Canada and the United Kingdom - but under a new project, small farmers will produce bananas at international standards for the ripe fruit trade to attract premium prices in niche markets, said general manger of the Banana Board, Janet Conie.

Conie said there are currently six farmers - whose names she did not disclose - with export contracts for the UK, who will continue to export a 20-foot container fortnightly. However, previous media releases named one as Noel Clarke of St Mary.

The new ripe fruit project, which will begin in fiscal 2015-16, will target farmers who together will cultivate 115 hectares to supply markets in the UK with three containers of fruit weekly.

"The projected profits over 12 months of consistent weekly shipping from the new plantation of 115 hectares of bananas will result in net revenues of a approximately US$26.4 million ($3 billion)," Conie said.

The new project should also add another 115 jobs to the sector, while increasing overall production of bananas by 50 tonnes per week or 2,500 tonnes per year. Allowing time for cultivation and maturation of the fruit, the project should be able to deliver on the shipments consistently in 18 months, she said.

The new project will also see a shift in the shipping arrangements, facilitated by the Ministry of Agriculture, to lessen the time it takes to get the produce into end markets. Under the current structure, individual exporters make their own shipping arrangements, but that could change under the current talks being undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture.

"The current shipping to the UK takes 14 days, but will soon increase to 24 days," Conie said, noting that one freight handler has indicated the shipping time will have to be lengthened to mitigate his increasing costs.

"This is not ideal for bananas. The new project will seek to make new shipping arrangements that facilitate weekly shipping and voyage of not more than 10 days," she said.

The agriculture ministry is in dialogue with a major shipping company to have local agricultural produce, including bananas, shipped to the UK in 10 days. However the arrangements have not yet been tied down, Conie said.

Currently, food producers in Jamaica have private contact with local exporters as well as overseas buyers. The Banana Board facilitates dealings between the six banana producers, who currently meet the standards of export quality for the UK, and agents such as Ashanti Limited in the UK, she adds.

"Fruits to Cayman are produced at St Mary Banana Estates (SMBE). Fruits to Canada originate from several small farmers and the SMBE," said Conie, with the Banana Board providing oversight in meeting exporting and harvesting conditions.

SMBE is owned by the Jamaica Producers Group, which handles its own logistics.

Local producers use various freight companies to export bananas, such as Belle Tropicals for Canada-bound exports; as well as ZIM Caribstar and McNairs, for shipments to Cayman, Conie said.

Some small exporters also use air freight to send small quantities of banana weekly to Cayman and Canada, she adds.

For the January to December 2014 period, Jamaica exported 8,303 boxes, or 153,605 kilogrammes, of bananas to the Cayman Islands, valued at $12.8 million. Some 2,822 boxes, or 52,207kg, were shipped to Canada, valued at $6.4 million; and 258 boxes, or 4,773kg, valued at $243,000 were traded with the UK.