Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Banana rebound - Despite export fallout, local market shoots again

Published:Monday | February 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

THERE ARE signs that the fears and concerns of banana farmers, nearly two years after Jamaica decided to discontinue exporting the product, are beginning to recede.

The turnaround in fortunesis welcome relief for farmers devastated by Tropical Storm Gustav in 2008, which prompted the Government to rule that it was in-feasible to continue exporting bananas.

Cultivators who stayed in banana production told
The Gleaner
they are raking in higher returns from the local market and shelling out less in productivity expenses.

"The expenses are considerably less and the cost for a box of bananas has more than tripled," said Rose Hardy, a farmer from Highgate/ Richmond in St Mary.

Another farmer, Noel Clarke, said the challenges have not all dis-appeared, but stressed that he has been able to stay afloat.

A spate of hurricanes and thunder-storms over a four-year period wrecked the industry and forced the Government's hand in making a tough decision on the future of banana.

Hardy told
The Gleaner
that the opening of Spanish-owned and other large hotels has helped to revive the industry.

The banana farmer of 10 years is upbeat as she is now receiving $1,710 for a 1kg (approximately 40lb) box of bananas, nearly four times the $400 she got when she sold the product for export.

"Others are able toget up to $2,500, depending on the price for which they choose to sell," she said.

Job cuts

Clarke, who farms in Ramble, St Mary, conceded that while the local market is limited, increased banana prices have kept him in business. However, he said he was forced to scale down production, thus trimming his workforce.

"I have to employ fewer persons, but, personally, I am not worse off," declared Clarke.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Glendon Harris, told
The Gleaner
yesterday afternoon that farmers who focus primarily on ripe bananas are doing well.

"You have two twists to it: There is a thriving market for ripened bananas ... while the market for green bananas remains uncertain," said Harris.

The JAS boss attributed this to the reduction of competition in the industry, particularly from large estates.

However, he stressed that while the industry has started to look up, there was still need to tread cautiously as increased competition could set back the sector.

The farmers said the assistance of the European Union (EU), which established a facility in St Mary to assist those who had planned to diversify production, has served them well.

"The EU has always been a strong support of banana farmers," Hardy said of the organisation.

The EU's assistance programme is intended to assist the country to respond to the increased market liberalisation of the banana sector by improving competitiveness of the industry. It also seeks to support economic diversification and social resilience in areas affected by banana's decline.

Rehab work in st mary

Only last Friday, head of the EU Delegation to Jamaica, Marco Mazzocchi Alemanni, and Western St Mary Member of Parliament Bobby Montague reopened the Roslyn road in the eastern parish that it had rehabilitated at a cost of J$4.5 million, more than half of which was funded by the EU.

This rehabilitation work is expected to benefit more than 1,200 residents of Albion Mountain and surrounding communities, many of whom are farmers.

Both Hardy and Clarke agreed that the decision by many farmers to diversify has also helped the farmers as competition is not brisk.

For Hardy, when the significantly lower expenses are factored, she ends up better off, with savings in fertiliser and labour, including washing, spraying and packing.

"These days, we lose a lower quantity of bananas to rejection, and most of those can be used for other products such as banana chips."

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com