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History of Jamaica's coconuts
published: Thursday | October 5, 2006

The Coconut Industry Board (CIB) is the sole statutory body responsible for all aspects of coconut production in Jamaica, and is dedicated to ensuring the continued existence and development of the local coconut industry.

The Coconut Industry Board was established by the Coconut Industry Control Act in 1945, and consists of nine board members (directors), four of whom, including the chairman, are appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, while the other five, who must be coconut growers, are elected by coconut growers.

Over its 60 years history the CIB has built a solid and enviable international reputation as an institution for research on problems related to the sustained production of coconuts. Its scientific research involves the studies of agronomy, botany, plant breeding, plant pathology, and molecular biology.

The Coconut Industry Board services approximately 8,000 coconut growers occupying approximately 15,000 hectares, with an estimated three to four million coconut trees.

Important plantation crop

The coconut is not indigenous to Jamaica; it was introduced to the Caribbean and the Atlantic coasts of the Americas in the 16th century. By the end of the 17th century the coconut was well established in Jamaica, but did not become an important plantation crop until the middle of the 19th century.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s most of the crop was exported as fresh, dry nuts and some copra and oil were produced by independent operators, but the industry was in a depressed and chaotic state. In response to this situation, the Jamaica Coconut Producers Association Limited, a marketing co-operative, was formed by a group of coconut growers in 1930. This organisation made contracts with coconut growers for their coconuts with the aim of establishing an edible oil factory and other manufacturing operations, and exporting coconuts through their agents abroad.

In 1932, the association issued debentures and used the funds to erect their own factory. Further debentures were later issued and these were redeemed through a cess of six pence per bag on coconuts sold by the association on behalf of growers, with the growers' consent. The Coconut Products Board was established under this Act to advise the Governor in Executive Council and later, the Minister.

Coconut diseases

Following World War II, the industry had to deal with disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and coconut diseases. In 1966 when lethal yellowing disease ( the most deadly of coconut diseases, which has been with us for over 100 years) destroyed almost all the Jamaica Talls, the variety grown commercially at that time, the board, through its Research Department which was established in 1959 by the late Rudolph Donald Cohen 'Dossie' Henriques, who was then chairman, embarked on extensive research to the extent that its scientists were able to develop the Maypan hybrid using Malayan Dwarf as the mother palm, to create planting material which was highly resistant to lethal yellowing disease. The Maypan hybrid and the Malayan Dwarf were used to rehabilitate the industry and they remained highly resistant to lethal yellowing disease until a few years ago.

No variety or hybrid is currently resistant to lethal yellowing disease, and this disease continues to be the biggest problem facing the industry. The board's research scientists are working in earnest to locate or develop resistant planting material.

Contributed by the Coconut Industry Board.

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