Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Gretel Sessing, president of the All-Island Banana Growers' Association, has declared that the sector, which was devastated by the passage of Hurricane Sandy last October, is on the rebound and seemingly poised for a bright future.
"We are on target and we are in the market with green and ripe bananas at about 20 per cent of where we were pre-Hurricane Sandy," Sessing told The Gleaner yesterday. "Things are expected to get progressively better and should be at 50 per cent by the end of May."
The banana-growing parishes of Portland and St Mary suffered an average of 90 per cent in losses to cultivation, while the western region averaged some 50 per cent - a total dollar value of more than J$1 billion.
Following the disaster, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries implemented a three-pronged programme of assistance, valued at more than $200 million, to support the recovery effort.
The recovery effort included a contribution of €1 million from the European Union (EU). Payments totalling J$7 million were earmarked for disbursement to farmers under the Banana Industry Catastrophe Fund programme.
Under the Banana Resuscitation Loan Programme (BRLP), some $100 million, provided by the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), was handed over for disbursement to banana farmers. The ministry gave further support to the BRLP by providing some J$13.5 million to facilitate a reduction of the interest rate on the loans, which was channelled through the People's Co-operative Bank at a rate of 8.5 per cent to five per cent.
However, a stipulation that the farmers must secure guaranteed markets in order to access the loan caused the offer to be placed on hold.
"A MOU was signed with two of our leading processors but due to some unsettled issues, this did not come through," Sessing said. "This forced some of our farmers to seek loans from commercial banks at very high rates to get back in business."
Sessing added: "The loan has been available for the past two weeks after the ministry changed the requirements."
Several other programmes, valued approximately €200,000, as well as technical support, are currently being undertaken with EU and Government of Jamaica funding to the Banana Board.
A three-year Banana Accompanying Measures Programme, valued at €4.73 million, is scheduled to begin in March 2013 following the culmination of the country's strategy.
Some 1,400 commercial growers are registered to the Sessing-led group.