Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Plastic banana! - Some chips manufacturers say no to new strain of the fruit being introduced locally

Published:Sunday | April 9, 2017 | 4:00 AMRyon Jones
A sample of the FHIA strain of banana introduced to Jamaican farmers. He estimates that this bunch will have at least 17 hands but they have been known to bear in excess of 20 hands which is one of the factors why the strain is seen as a possible saviour for the local industry.

Manager of the leading banana chips making company in western Jamaica, Robert Chambers of Maroon Pride, is expressing displeasure with a new strain of banana which is being introduced as a possible saviour for the local industry.

The FHIA strain of banana, which was developed by the Honduran Agricultural Research Foundation, (better known by its acronym FHIA) is a disease-resistant hybrid, which also gives higher yields.

The Banana Board started issuing the FHIA plantlets in 2013 and has so far dispersed more than 120,000 of the 200,000 plantlets it intends to distribute to farmers by the end of 2017.

"What we are doing now is multiplying and distributing new varieties which don't come down with disease, gives twice the bunch, and so we are producing and selling those. So, gradually, we are increasing production," Janet Conie, general manager of the Banana Board, told The Sunday Gleaner.

But some chips manufacturers argue that the FHIA is banana that should be boiled, as it is not sweet when ripe and gets soft very quickly.

 

NOT THE BEST BANANA

 

"The traditional Lakatan or Cavendish is what we prefer for chips because these give us better yield," said the Maroon Pride boss.

"The wastage that I get out of the new variety is up to three times more than what I get from the local brand. I use it (FHIA), but I don't like it. It doesn't have the flavour like the local brand.

"The new variety takes a lot more oil and we get a lot more wastage from it because it is a softer banana and it tends to stick on to each other when you try to get it out into chips, and you can't pack that. It also takes a lot more gas and you only buy it for a few cents less than the ordinary bananas," added Chambers.

He argued: "The ordinary bananas taste a lot more like bananas than the new ones. So don't be surprised if you hear people start saying that we are using plastic banana to make chips because of the new variety."

That argument is not being accepted by the Banana Board, which is trying to address the problem of the chips industry, which has been unable to meet demand due to a shortage of the fruit.

"We supply St Mary Banana Estate with most of the plantain FHIA that we have, and that company has a lot of it. The company has a lot of bananas, too, and it did its trial with the chips and the chips were fine," said Conie.

"You just have to chip it at a particular diameter and you have to fry it at a particular time frame and it comes out OK," added Conie.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com