Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Jamaica's failure to adequately address coffee berry borer infestation and coffee leaf rust disease during the years when demand for coffee on the global market was in decline could see the local industry missing out on some US$10 million in potential earnings for the crop year 2013-14.
Senator Norman Grant, managing director of the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory, made the disclosure last Friday at the signing of a memorandum of understanding signed with Newport Fersan Jamaica Limited for the sale of $10 million worth of fertiliser.
With coffee prices on the world market now trending up, the local crop projection for 2013-14 is 240,000 boxes of Blue Mountain and other coffee, about the same as last year, representing a significant fall-off from the 600,000 boxes per annum the country produced 15 years ago.
It is expected that the country will earn about US$30 million from coffee production, but the Mavis Bank chairman is disappointed that while local farmers are already enjoying increased earnings, the country will miss out on the potential financial bonanza.
"There are a lot of fields that have been abandoned. All of this is happening when the slump that the coffee industry faced some three, four crop years ago because of recession and the falling prices, is recovering. So, the demand for Jamaica's Blue Mountain Coffee and the non-Blue Mountain is going up, but the production remains stagnant," Grant said.
The devastating impact of the global recession on Japan's economy hit the local coffee industry particularly hard since Jamaica had committed some 90 per cent of production to that country.
Japan's failure to meet its quota obligations sent the local industry into a tailspin, prompting a diversification of its export portfolio in order to mop up the excess production.
Then, Hurricane Sandy, in 2011, brought what some experts believe to be a particularly virulent strain of the coffee leaf rust disease, which, coupled with coffee berry borer infestation, pushed up production costs, forcing some farmers to abandon their fields.
Though Government provided some financial assistance to deal with the leaf rust, there has been a recent resurgence of the disease.