Letter of the day: Pimento sector in crisis
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Jamaica is known to have the world's best-quality pimento. However, in recent times, the crop has come under severe threat and may soon become a thing of the past. We have been reaping from the same trees for decades.
The crop is a long-term crop, so people are reluctant to plant, as they have to wait too long to get a return on their investment. As a processor, it is becoming more and more difficult each year to procure the berries. When available, the crop literally goes to the highest bidder. Last year, the price reached a high of $600 per pound! Processors cannot operate under these conditions, as the price of our finished product cannot fluctuate with the market price of the berries.
One serious threat to the survival of the crop is the pimento oil industry. The oil is extracted from the tree leaves. As a result, harvesters are removing the leaves and in the process butchering the trees. This severely hampers the future bearing of the trees, resulting in much lower yields. This is seen as an easier source of income rather than harvesting the berries for sale. It is also very popular to use pimento wood when cooking over an open fire. Trees are being cut down for this purpose.
There is also the case where the Government is involved in the purchasing of the berries, essentially competing with the processors. Why is the Government buying and selling pimento berries? It should not be involved in this private-sector exercise. Government revenue comes from taxes, services, loans and grants - not from merchandising.
The effect of the State being in the market adds to the problem. I know of cases where processors had to import inferior pimento berries for the sole purpose of being able to stay in business. In addition, there is the issue of overseas companies using imported Jamaican pimento to make products to compete with our own.
The Government may have to introduce some special incentive to increase the crop so all can survive in the industry without affecting the other. In the interim, it is imperative that we maintain the uniqueness of our products by ensuring that our processors have first access to our home-grown products. We need to stop exporting our prized crops for someone to use it to compete against us.
I understand that the pimento exported by the government is blended with inferior product and sold as 'Jamaican' Pimento. The same can be said about our coffee, ginger and Scotch bonnet peppers. We must maintain and preserve what we are blessed with so that our product quality and Jamaican brand will be unmatched.