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Farmers flunking ... failing to fill US demand for tomatoes, sweet pepper, cucumber and other produce

Published:Sunday | May 22, 2016 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Some of the farm produce on display at the recent Agro Fest 2016 are in high demand in the United States.
Morgan Perkins

Jamaican agricultural producers are missing out on millions of United States (US) dollars in potential earning by failing to target that lucrative market to export their produce.

According to US agricultural attache to the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, Morgan Perkins, the country is lagging behind some of its regional counterparts by failing to fully capitalise on the American market despite having certain advantages.

One advantage that Jamaica has is the presence of a US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine, Preclearance Offshore Programs based at the Norman Manley and Donald Sangster international airports.

"It is somewhat underutilised right now; there is the capacity for a lot more traffic to go through those pre-clearance centres," said Perkins, as he pointed to the facilities which are 100 per cent funded by the Jamaican Government.

"There are actual USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) personnel at these preclearance centres who are supervising inspection and fumigation of agricultural products for shipment to the United States.

"And that ensures that when products arrive in the US they are going to go through inspection much more quickly and going to encounter much less problems with pest and diseases," added Perkins.

Jamaica has preclearance to export 50 commodities to the United States, but the country is failing to supply a significant number of these on a regular basis, missing out on millions of US dollars annually.




Some of the food items in demand in the US which Jamaica is failing to supply the US in sufficient quantity are tomatoes, sweet peppers, Chinese melons, Chinese okras, cucumbers, and eggplants.

"The products on that list that are not going to the US are generally not going because they are not being produced in the quantity and quality that need to be produced in order to go to the US," said Perkins.

"There is a lot of demand for those products. So if you have a good-quality product, you can easily get it into the big wholesale markets and it will be just swallowed right up.

"Comparing to the Dominican Republic, there are a number of products on that list that the Dominicans are exporting to the US in large quantities, tens of billions of dollars per year that could be shipped from Jamaica as well."

According to Perkins, the Dominican Republic's success is due in part to the ability of its farmers to supply the US market during the winter when its production is down.

Some steps have been taken recently to enable the country to capitalise on some of the market currently being missed out on in the US, with April's signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) and the National Association of Christian Educators.

"Over the next 24 to 36 months, it is our intention to explore exporting those crops in a structured framework," said president of the JAS, Norman Grant.

"I have been told by Dr (Amos) Jones, who is the coordinator (of the programme), that there is a potential US$24 million worth of market that is available over five years for these particular crops."

The initial list of produce under the MOU are bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, corn, cucumber, Irish potatoes, onions, okra, string beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and turnip green (top of the plant).