High prices for gungo, sorrel as drought affects traditional crops
Despite assurances from the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) that there would be adequate supply for the Christmas and New Year season, shoppers have been hit with a scarcity and dramatic increases in the prices of sorrel and Gungo peas traditionally used for dinner and beverage especially at this time of the year.
The JAS in November said housewives would find adequate supplies to meet the high demand, but checks by Wednesday Business showed that sorrel, Gungo and other crops were scarce in markets across Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine and Clarendon, as well as scarcity in other parishes.
Director of agricultural marketing information in the Ministry of Agriculture, Michael Price attributed the scarcity to the recent drought which severely affected the major Gungo peas producing parishes, while most of the sorrel produced were taken up by processors.
JAS President Senator Norman Grant conceded the drought has had a greater effect on the prices and supplies than was anticipated.
Checks by Wednesday Business showed that consumers forked out up to $1,200 per pound for Gungo peas in the markets during peak demand, while sorrel were sold for up $500 per pound.
Up to three weeks ago, both sorrel and Gungo peas, although in short supply, sold for an average $150 per pound.
Some 913 tonnes of Gungo peas was produced locally in 2014, which Pryce said was also on the low side due to the drought that year.
Data on production Gungo for 2015 was not yet available, Pryce said.
However, production of the legume in 2015 will likely round out less than that of 2014, he suggested.
?It?s probably even less than last year, again because of the drought. We had a more serious drought in some areas this year,? the director said.
While Gungo peas is produced nationwide, greater volumes are grown in south St. Elizabeth, south Manchester and St. Thomas, according to Ministry of Agriculture data.
?It?s exactly those three parishes that had some of the worse drought (conditions). That explains the $1,000 per pound for Gungo,? said Priye, adding that ?the same will ring true for sorrel.?
The Gleaner previously reported that while the Ministry of Agriculture spoke to increased production, processors had signalled difficulties in sourcing the commodity.
Over the last few years there has been a shift in sorrel cultivation trends which was meant to turn it into a year-round cash crop.
That aligns with its promotion from a home-made brew to a multiplicity of value-added uses, including manufactured sorrel drink for retail shelves and as flavouring for sauces, teas and even beer, among other things.
For 2014, production of sorrel amounted to 1,200 tonnes, but this was still not enough to satisfy the demand as the appetite for the vitamin-rich crop has spread beyond Jamaica?s shores.
?The time when sorrel was mainly planted was when the dry season was at its worse. More sorrel is also going into processing,? Pryce said.
He said while the Ministry of Agriculture did not have a read on the level to which Gungo peas is taken up by processors, and he could not ?say definitively that (the situation) is true and to what extent, ... I can definitively say that many of the farmers who would have had access to irrigation and could have planted sorrel sold to processors because they had contracts.?
As with the scarcity of eggs in 2011 which resulted in a glut for 2012/13, the rush to increase production to feed the market will likely result in an overabundance come next year, a disadvantage for farmers but a welcomed reprieve to cash-strapped consumers.
For Grant, the market will, however, see ?a rebalancing on prices? with farmers still being able to cultivate the crops profitably even as he encouraged long term storage of the crops by consumers and agri-processors to offset any further shifts in the market.