Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Agri expert rubbishes Gov’t’s mango export plan

Published:Friday | October 5, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/ Gleaner Writer
Christopher Serju Photo Consultant agriculturist, Webster McPherson
Audley Shaw
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Consultant agriculturalist Webster McPherson has ridiculed the announcement by Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw that Jamaica will scale up mango production in short order to compete in the global export trade.

McPherson, who chaired Wednesday's Jamaica Country Forum stakeholders' meeting at the Medallion Hall Hotel in St Andrew, voiced his disagreement immediately after Shaw promised "exciting times" for the agriculture sector, of which mango exports are an integral component.

Shaw, who arrived late for the function, apologised for also leaving early due to other engagements and did not hear the full extent of the response from McPherson, a trained agriculturalist with more than 40 years' experience in the field.

The veteran agronomist went on to point out why the plans enunciated for expanding mango production were unrealistic, accusing the portfolio minister of reinventing the wheel.

GOING In CIRCLES

"In the 1990s, I used to manage a mango farm in St Mary, and we used to ship 80,000 boxes a week from Agualta Vale," McPherson informed the gathering. "There was Belvedere Estate in St Thomas, there was Thetford in St Catherine, and there was Barnett in Montego Bay. Barnett is now Fairview Shopping Centre and Bogue Housing Scheme - all these were mango orchards in the 1990s. So we are rediscovering the wheel, going around in circles."

McPherson - a Jamaica School of Agriculture graduate who continued his studies in general agriculture at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and who also studied project planning and management at the University of Roehampton, London - accused successive administrations of failing to articulate new and effective policies for driving sustained growth in agriculture.

"At Belvedere, Jamaica Flour Mills took out mangoes and put in pastures. These were large mango orchards in the 1980s and 1990s, so 20, 30 years later, we are talking about new developments. This is not new development," McPherson declared, going on to voice his apprehension about the announced land divestment project, informed by over four decades of experience.

"I have seen many large estates acquired by the Government subdivided into lots and divested. These estates - when they were estates - were productive. They were divested and the lands given to people, and when you drive past is so-so bush. So the minister talking about divesting more land. I am not excited, personally, because I've been around too long."

Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw's projection of Jamaica's competitive advantage over Mexico in mango exports is particularly egregious in light of the record export US$334 million worth of fresh and dried mango into the United States for 2017.

"Can you imagine when our sweet mango dem start to go a America what going to happen to the ones from Mexico and all the places like that? When you taste it, it don't even taste like mango, nuh true?" Shaw said at Wednesday's Jamaica Country Forum stakeholders' meeting at the Medallion Hall Hotel.

The fact is that among the several mango varieties Mexico exports to the US are Tommy, Ataulfo, Ken, Keit, and Heyden, with France, Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom among its other markets.

The growth in per person mango consumption in the US, which was estimated at half a kilogramme in 2005, jumped to 1.3 kilogrammes in 2016, with 65 per cent of all mangoes consumed in America being of Mexican origin.