Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Jamaican farms aiming for 40% of onion market

Published:Wednesday | June 29, 2016 | 6:00 AMTameka Gordon
A basket of local onions is on display beside Don McGlashan, director general in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Agriculture, in Old Harbour, St Catherine.

Three years ago, Jamaica was producing just six per cent of the onions consumed locally. Now it's meeting 10-12 per cent of demand, but that's still around a quarter of the levels agriculture officials aim to reach.

The Ministry of Agriculture's onion development programme launched in 2013 has reaped "significant amounts" of the tuber mostly from farms in St Catherine and Clarendon, according to the ministry's director general, Don McGlashan.

For the next crop year, which kicks off in the fall, the target is 17 per cent. Three years after, the aim is to more than double the 2016-17 ratio.

"We want to ensure, if we do things right, that by 2020, we have 40 per cent of demand being supplied by local production," said McGlashan.

"If we reach there, we will be saving at least US$2 million in import substitution. We will be generating farm gate price of about $5 million and the involvement of about 300-400 farmers in the programme with seasonal employment for at least 2,000 workers," he said.

IMPROVED PRODUCTION

Approximately 10 million kilograms of onion is consumed annually in Jamaica, with nine million of that amount imported at a cost of US$4 million, the said agriculture ministry official.

While conceding that the agro park system did not supply most of the improved production, McGlashan said the crop could, in fact, be boosted with increased participation in that programme.

"To get the numbers where we want to go, we really need to get the agro parks more involved," he said.

For the upcoming crop year, the ministry projects production from 140 hectares manned by some 300-350 farmers.

"In the hayday, our best average productivity index was 12 tonnes per hectare. The world average is 17 tonnes per hectare. If we are really doing onions successfully, we should be doing 30-35 tonnes per hectare," McGlashan said, adding that the onion programme aims to close the gap quickly.

Globally, 84 million tonnes of onion is produced annually, with China, India and the United States as top suppliers.

Around 70 per cent of Jamaica's onion imports come from The Netherlands.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com