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Shaw wants Coconut Board to invest part of its $10b to expand industry

Published:Monday | June 3, 2019 | 12:19 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw has mandated the Coconut Industry Board to spend a portion of the $10 billion it has in the bank to expand the industry to meet international demands for coconut and its by-products.

According to Shaw, Canada is in need of many products which Jamaica could provide if our production was at a higher level.

“In Canada, they can’t get enough things from Jamaica. GraceKennedy has to buy coconut water from Malaysia and Indonesia and sell it to Canada, and they are the largest exporters of coconut to Canada now,” said Shaw, who was delivering the main address at Thursday’s Jamaica International Exhibition, hosted by the Jamaica Manufactures and Exporters’ Association (JMEA) at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James.

“Look how much idle lands we have that we can plant coconut on. The Coconut Industry Board owns 25 per cent of Seprod shares, which is valued today at $10 billion [and] sitting in the bank. It is ­unacceptable,” he said.

“They (Coconut Industry Board) are going to have to use some of those shares under my watch to plant coconut trees like trouble across Jamaica,” added Shaw.

STOP WASTING TIME

According to the minister, the time has come for Jamaica to stop wasting time, as there is more than adequate arable land that could be put into coconut production to satisfy the various markets, including Canada. He said countries like Israel have far greater challenges to handle, yet they are making major strides in agriculture.

“Israel is surrounded by desert and enemies and have to extract salt from the seawater to ­irrigate their lands, and agricultural productivity is at high levels now. Their per capita income is US$40,000 and here we are, after decades of slipping and sliding up and down, we in Jamaica have a per capita income of less than US$6,000,” Shaw noted.

“Do you understand now the urgency that we have as a ­people to stop fooling around and move on in a genuine way from poverty to prosperity?” asked the agriculture minister.

“We are not short of land. We are not short of arable land across the country, and so we must ­hasten now to diversify some of our sugar lands because all of it won’t be staying in sugar any more; and the good news is, there is a great interest for lands to be leased for the production of all kinds of things, including orchard crops.’’

Shaw said Jamaica must hasten to put together the infrastructure needed to move agriculture. He said the Jamaica International Exhibition is part of the partnership with the JMEA to reach out to the world with what the country has.

“I say to all the visitors who are here, tell us what you want, and if we don’t have it, tell us so we can design and create those, too,’’ he said, urging international business leaders at the conference to consider Jamaica for investment.

In April, the Coconut Industry Board indicated that it will be undertaking measures in the 2019-20 fiscal year to expand the industry. That expansion includes the acquisition of lands at Water Valley in St Mary and other unnamed locations to establish a new seed garden, nursery and farm that will facilitate the ­construction of factories to bottle and produce coconut water and oil.