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WHITE GOLD - Jamaica looking to earn millions from cotton

Published:Sunday | February 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke (left) looks on as Japanese ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yasuo Takese (second left), and chief executive officer of the Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation (JADF), Vitus Evans, hold a cheque for a grant agreement that was signed on February 18, in Kingston, for the revitalisation of the West Indian Sea Island Cotton industry in Jamaica. At right is chairman of the JADF, Dalkeith Hanna. - JIS Photo
Bales of Sea Island Cotton from the last crop packed for export at the ginnery in Brampton, Old Harbour, St Catherine, while bags of cotton seeds, a byproduct of the ginning process, are packed in a container for export to Barbados. - File
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The Japanese government is investing just under US$107,000 (J$11 million) to resuscitate the local West Indian Sea Island Cotton industry, for which there is an annual global demand of six-million pounds of lint.

Less than one per cent of that amount is being supplied now.

The money from the Japanese will be used to purchase a row-crop tractor, a high-crop tractor, two boom sprayers, and a cultivator which are vital to get Jamaica on track to tap into this lucrative market where it enjoys significant competitive advantages.

Sea Island Cotton is grown commercially in Antigua, Barbados, Nevis and Jamaica. However, Jamaica is the only island capable of large production at this time.

Addressing the signing ceremony last Tuesday, Dalkeith Hanna, chairman of the Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation (JADF), said that there is a niche to be filled.

Hanna - who represents Jamaica on the Board of the West Indian Sea Island Cotton Association (WISICA), the organisation which owns and controls the trademark - said there are few other crops which can compete with its potential for value addition.

At US$10 a pound for the lint it is by far the highest priced cotton in the world, five times the cost of the next best cotton, the Giza 45 out of Egypt.

The plan as outlined by Vitus Evans, chief executive officer of the JADF, is to bring 5,000 acres of cotton under cultivation on a phased basis over a three-year period.

The ginning and exporting of lint will take place in the early stages and then move up the value chain to spin, weave and produce fabric and ultimately manufacture garments locally.

"Byproducts such as cotton seed oil, which is in high demand and animal feed will be produced from the seed," Evans explained.

"The approach which is being contemplated is to initially have a number of experienced farmers growing the cotton under contract and expanding the pool of farmers as production increases. Both small and large farmers will be encouraged to grow the cotton," he added.

Certified seeds will be provided to registered growers to whom a pool of equipment will be made available for land preparation and crop care. Technical assistance and extension services will also be made available to the new growers, with a ginnery to be centrally located where the seed cotton will be ginned, stored and baled.

In the meantime, persons in the industry are calling for an orderly development as Jamaica pushes to cash in.

ONGOING ALLIANCE

Industry insiders say there needs to be a close and ongoing alliance between growers, purchasers and marketers, in order to increase production to satisfy demand.

"We estimate that a vertically integrated West Indian Sea Island industry supported by 5,000 acres of cotton production when fully implemented will provide for over 2,000 persons full-time jobs, 15,000 on a seasonal basis and generate income in excess of US$800 million per year," argued Evans.

Sea Island Cotton is the world's best quality cotton based on its fibre length, silk-like quality, fineness and texture. There is a high demand internationally with buyers from Switzerland, Japan, the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom said to be interested.

It is a crop for which the Caribbean has a natural geographic advantage with repeated efforts to grow similar quality cotton in India, China, the United States and Africa being unsuccessful.

Evans cited an example of the economic earning potential from West Indian Sea island Cotton.

"For example, a pound of lint is sold for US$10 and it takes three ounces of lint to produce a shirt which is sold for an average of US$400 to US$500. And there is a market for lint, yarn and fabric.

"It is for these reasons that the JADF strongly believes that a vertically integrated Sea Island Cotton Industry offers tremendous possibilities for economic growth for Jamaica."

BEST AGRONOMIC PRACTICES

He was supported by Hanna, who said research conducted in collaboration with the University of the West Indies and the Ministry of Agriculture in all aspects of crop production, nutrition, pest control and irrigation systems has provided the requisite database to establish the best agronomic practices for growing the cotton.

"I am satisfied that we have significantly reduced the risks associated with the crop through the work that we have done to date," said Hanna.

Plans are already at an advanced stage to cultivate a minimum of 500 acres of cotton for the 2014-2015 crop - 200 acres in Clarendon, 100 acres in St Mary and 200 acres in St Catherine. Substantially, more land is, however, to produce the 200,000 pounds of lint buyers require for this crop year, which at best, project yields would require about 650 acres of land.