Jamaica makes banana export push
The government is making another attempt to revive banana exports and is appealing for investors to take up funding and technical assistance under the new Banana Export Expansion Programme (BEEP).
The programme is being financed in part by the "last set of funding" that Jamaica will get from the European Union (EU)-supported Jamaica Banana Accompanying Measures (JBAMs), with the Banana Board as the implementing agency.
The Government is placing $250 million in the project along with $76.5 million from JBAM's, general manager of the Banana Board Janet Conie told participants at an investor-sensitisation meeting held in Kingston last Thursday.
Some 115 hectares of farmlands are targeted by the BEEP, which should see a sustained export regime beyond the BEEP initiatives even as EU-funded banana-accompanying measures come to an end in 2017.
"We are going into export in a sustained manner. We are targeting production in a very scientific and controlled way, and we expect to get increased production," said Conie.
"Farmers need to know that every finger of fruit will find a market. So the alignment of the production to market both locally and overseas has to be right, and this is what we are doing now," Conie said, noting that the Ministry of Agriculture had assessed the market reception for the product.
Farmers will have access to $261,000 in loans per hectare of land under a revolving loan fund administered by the All Island Banana Growers Association (AIBGA). The loans will also see a nine-month moratorium and a separate nine-month repayment period that will in essence kick in after farmers have exported at least two batches.
General manager of the AIBGA Donald Elvey said loan repayments would either be taken from export earnings or could
be made over the counter by farmers who take up the loans.
The programme will also cover the cost of global certification, which will see the farms audited to ensure the crops and farm meet international standards.
"We want to develop the industry to preserve our competitiveness. We are not just inviting everybody to come back into bananas to throw anything that we can't sell on the domestic market on to the export market. It is a targeted system for a product that is competitive on quality, price, and yields," said Conie.
Jamaica has been hit by at least nine weather events since 2000 that have led to major financial losses and reduced production, but Conie said that with world prices peaking at $2,500 per tonne in 2012, BEEP aims to generate at least a 30 per cent rate of return for farmers.
"What we want to do is to carve out a section of the European market for the Jamaican banana export programme. We are not just going to sell ripe fruits to one market. What we are going to do is sell ripe fruits on the domestic and export markets, but strategically, the segment sizes will be targeted to give us the best overall return," said Conie as she pointed investors to the United Kingdom market, which sees product differentiations for various segments.
"The opportunities that exist are strong. We have made missions to the market and we have been inundated with calls from as far as Dubai for Jamaican bananas. What we don't have is the production," Conie said.
For example, she said cooking bananas were now in high demand in the United Kingdom, "whereas before we were shipping ripe bananas".
There is also a need for value-added products both in Jamaica and overseas, Conie said.
Farmers are also encouraged to form clusters to benefit from the market pools and infrastructure upgrades.
Up to last week, 98 applications for funding under the programme had been made, with a selection process under way to handpick the most viable farms, Conie said.