Avia Collinder, Business Writer
The Ministry of Agriculture has identified 500 acres of land to be used for the production of ginger and turmeric and is formulating a programme to encourage farmers to grow the spices.
Jamaica fulfils only about 10 per cent of direct export orders for ginger, which amounts to 17 metric tonnes of dried ginger per year.
Sylburn Thomas, general manager of the ministry's Export Division, said the long-term decline in Jamaica's ginger production has been reversing over the last three years, with production increasing by 63 per cent from 298 tonnes in dried weight in 2008 to 486 tonnes in 2010.
Correspondingly, cultivated acreage increased by 40 per cent from 106 hectares to 148 hectares.
"Notably, ginger yield improved over the period by 14 per cent," he said, from 2.8 tonnes per hectare to 3.2 tonnes per hectare.
"The improvements is the industry are attributable principally to attractive farm-gate prices, guaranteed market and improved crop husbandry," Thomas said.
Turmeric currently grows wild in Jamaica, mainly in the parishes of Hanover, Westmoreland, St Elizabeth, St James, Clarendon and St Catherine. Total annual output from wild harvesting is estimated at 75 tonnes.
In early February, the ministry said enough planting material would have been distributed within two weeks to plant 350 acres of turmeric, an additional 150 acres of ginger will be cultivated under conventional systems, and 10 acres in protected environment.
For the 2012 turmeric project, 77 farmers have been registered. They are expected to plant 412 acres of turmeric in total - representing average farm size of 5.35 acres.
For ginger open-field production, a total of 300 farmers are targeted for the 2012 project.
The agriculture ministry said Jamaican ginger has a unique chemical profile, which is valued in specialty segments of global markets.
"On the basis of its chemical integrity, Jamaican ginger attracts export prices between US$7,700 and US$8,000 per tonne (J$600,000 and J$645,500)," said Thomas.
Farm-gate prices range between US$5,110 and US$6,400 per tonne (J$434,350 and J$544,000)," he said.
The price paid for turmeric price is highly dependent on product form and its curcumin content, he added.
"With curcumin content upward of four per cent, Jamaican turmeric is expected to trade generally in the upper price tier at a long-run average of about US$2,400 (J$204,000) per tonne. Long-run farm-gate price is expected in the region of US$1,700 (J$144,500) per tonne," said Thomas.
"Turmeric is a relatively hardy and prolific crop. Jamaican turmeric has been evaluated in global markets with positive response."
The global demand for ginger was 423,000 metric tonnes valued at US$614 million during 2010.
For turmeric, global demand increased over 2006 to 2008 from 66,000 tonnes to 79,000 tonnes, before declining under weather influence in major areas of origin to 53,000 tonnes in 2010.
"The turmeric trade is relatively concentrated, with six countries accounting for 50 per cent of imports," Thomas said.
The major importing countries include Japan, United States, Canada, Germany, Netherlands and France.
While a number of households locally are involved in harvesting turmeric, only seven farmers were registered in the Ministry's 2011 pilot project.
An estimated 1,460 farmers are involved in ginger production with an average farm size of 0.25 acre.
The plants do not require special conditions for growth and are known to grow in different soil types and ecological conditions across Jamaica.
The planting project is meant to grow volume production and standardise quality.
A nursery to produce disease-free stock is to be opened to counteract the long-term decline in Jamaica's ginger industry, which has been due to the effects of ginger rhizome rot and bacterial wilt diseases.
"To accelerate production, it is critical that the industry uses disease-free ginger planting material and that good agricultural practices are followed," Thomas said.
The ginger nurseries will be located at government research stations under public-private partnership, and on private lands under private operation. The ginger-nursery project will target 10 investors.