Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Letter of the Day | Tackling the coffee dilemma

Published:Thursday | November 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Mrs Juliet Holness must be congratulated for staging what has been described as the first-of-its-kind coffee symposium for an industry beleaguered by all manner of ills for decades, in fact almost a century. Maybe it was time constraints at the podium at the Chinese Benevolent Association where the symposium was held, that caused her to just summarise the problems affecting an industry of such vast potential for foreign exchange inflows (over US$500 million in 2003) as just "politics".

I believe that she is right in so far as it becomes necessary for us to differentiate the meaning of "partisan gutter politics" and "brand of political fortitude and acumen resulting in broad-based nationalistic development". Therefore, let us find out a little more about the two types of politics to which is referred, and which is responsible for the following:

1. The precipitous fall in box price over the past 12-18 months, to move from $9,000-$10,000 per box to now $2,000-$4,000 per box;

2. Which of the two caused the progressive worsening of prices and no concomitant benefit to farmers by virtue of currency revaluation and exchange rate differential?

3. Which of the two causes Jamaica to be largely (85 per cent) locked into an Asian market for some 60 years selling its most rudimentary product, 'green beans', as its first and only rung of the value-added chain. Thank God for the market penetration of a handful of roasters!

4. Which of the two is at work and by whom, because of unenforced legislation, the Blue Mountain coffee is slowly losing its mystique and defined character, when hither to it had been produced in fog and moss-covered mountains for 18 of the 24 hours per day, allowing for the indispensable slow maturation of the berries?

5. Which of the two, and by whom, has caused farmers to be not able to recover from natural disasters since there is no sustained peril/crop insurance at their disposal?

6. Which of the two is to be blamed for the fall off of high mountain and prime washed production (150,000 boxes 13 years ago to now only 30,000) as the only recognisable chaser for Blue Mountain coffee?

7. Which of the two, and by whom, has caused cheap, inferior coffee coming to Jamaica in the first place; and to happen without extreme punitive duty/cess to be used to stimulate local production?

8. Which of the two, and by whom, that caused the disproportional Japanese investment at the farm/production level; at the expense of investment in parallel processing and value-added technology and packaging?

9. Which of the two caused the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association to be so fettered with court cases about lease tenure for its member farmers while representation of rank and file farmers is left wanting?

10. Which of the two, and by whom, has there been none or limited exploitation of icons like Usain Bolt and reggae music to really give our coffee global flight?

11. Which of the two, and by whom, has caused the Coffee Industry Board regulatory arm budget against coffee adulteration and brand protection to be so minimal?

Therefore, which of the two, and by whom, will change this age-old coffee dilemma? How soon? And how irreversible?

Derrick D. Simon