Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Yvonne Burns, general manager of the Coconut Industry Board (CIB), says there are not enough coconuts to supply the present demand, and is appealing for more Jamaicans to get involved in growing the drupe as a business.
"At the moment, there is a shortage of seedlings, and especially when there is a drought, it affects our germination rate," said Burns in a telephone interview last Wednesday, "We have approximately 800 registered growers of coconuts, but Jamaica needs to plant even more, if we are to meet the present demand."
According to Burns, investors in the sector are afforded strong support from the CIB, including fertiliser for the first three years and 80 per cent of the seedlings needed for planting.
"Depending on how you look at it, this can be a lucrative venture, but one must understand that growing coconut is a long-term crop, so what we advise new growers is to plant some short-term crops such as banana, cocoa and plantains, as well."
Burns pointed out that the battle against the lethal yellowing disease is ongoing, but the sector has learned to cope with the challenge and has been doing well.
"The problem is mainly on the eastern side of the island, namely Portland and St Thomas, but we have learned to cope with it," she said, "... but we have not yet found a cure."
fighting the yellowing
The disease has plagued coconut farmers as far back as the 1970s, however, coconut farmer Stephen Black says the methods employed by the farmers have been bearing fruit.
"There is a simple method that we call 'slash and burn', and the board has been giving tremendous support in this fight, and we have seen some positive results," said Black, a director of the CIB.
The Black estate is located on a 700-acre farm in Nutts River, St Thomas, and consists of approximately 70,000 trees, from which between 18,000 and 20,000 nuts are reaped per day. Production for export stands at 70 per cent.
Today, the farm not only grows coconuts, but it also bottles the water for sale to various companies in North America, and has stepped up the marketing of the Miss Dawn cold press virgin coconut oil.