Banana exports up but farms behind schedule
The export volumes remain small, but overseas sales of bananas are on the uptick.
Exports were up 32 per cent last year, from 199 tonnes, valued at US$179,000 to 263 tonnes valued at US$242,000.
Comparatively, overall banana production is just under 55,000 tonnes.
Cayman Islands remains the top overseas market, with 160 tonnes of fruit shipped to that country last year, according to Ministry of Agriculture data. The rest supplied Canada and the United Kingdom.
The Jamaican Government has been on a drive to revive exports of banana through the Banana Export Expansion Programme (BEEP) launched last year. The 2015 export volumes does not include output generated under that programme. Those shipments kick in later this year, says general manager of the Banana Board, Janet Conie.
"We've been thrown a bit because it was aligned to the government agro-park programme, and that programme suffered some setback," said Conie.
"The agro-park in St James is delayed so we have planted in Portland and St Mary. We are reaping from that," she added.
At its launch, some 115 hectares of farmlands was targeted by BEEP, "but because we don't have the agro-park in St James, which is about 40 hectares of that, we are off the mark," Conie reasoned.
"Of the 90 hectares which we are currently proceeding, 50 hectares have been planted out and we are reaping from 40 hectares now," Conie said.
"We have started to reap from that and we are expecting our first set of exports in September to October. We are trying to send off the first set to Trinidad because we are not yet up to the capacity to go anywhere else," she said.
Success of the programme is pegged on take-up by farmers to push the projected results. Some 18 farmers have been engaged so far.
BEEP is being funded by the last set of seed money that Jamaica will get from the European Union-supported Jamaica Banana Accompanying Measures, with the Banana Board as the implementing agency.
The Banana Board will remain a stand-alone entity, despite ongoing reform that will see the merger of a number of commodity boards.
Initially, it was proposed that Banana Board be disbanded and its residual assets liquidated, and the proceeds used to seed a new insurance fund or another funding facility to benefit banana farmers.
"When they did the stakeholder consultations, the banana industry, through the farmers and the growers' association, specifically requested not to be included."
Left out of merger
The contractual agreements along with the need for continued technical services allowed for the Banana Board to be left out of the proposed merger, she said.
"The services that we need to continue with has to be facilitated and at that time there was no provision for continuation of the technical services with this newly merged commodity board," said Conie.
"We also have a grant contract with the EU with a commitment up to 2017," she said.