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Regional approach to revive coconut industry

Published:Tuesday | April 21, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju

As Jamaica continues to grapple with the devastating impact of the dreaded, lethal yellowing disease, the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) is hopeful that a regional intervention strategy will help to revive the fortunes of this ailing agricultural sub-sector.

Jamaica is among nine countries slated to benefit from a four-year regional project aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of small-scale coconut farmers, which will see the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), partnering with the Geneva-based Inter-national Trade Centre (ITC). The €3.5 million project will be financed by the European Union and implemented in the CARIFORUM countries of Belize, Dominica, The Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

One of the first phases of the project will be to engage with national stakeholders to formulate road maps for market-led development of the coconut and coconut products sector. And in the first of a series of workshops, specialists from within and outside the region met with farmers and other stakeholders at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston, for a two-day workshop on Monday, where they discussed market dynamics, plant material availability and new technologies.

playing catch-up

Leonard Green, chairman of the CIB board, used the occasion to bring colleagues up to speed on the state of the local industry and the timeliness of the project and its sustainability.

"We have had severe challenges and we welcome this workshop. It would not be untrue to say that we have been severely affected by the lethal yellowing problem (which) has cause most of our trees between the ages of 10-30, the prime bearing years, to die," he disclosed.

"And that means we persistently and consistently are playing catch-up vis-a-vis the coconut industry. If truth be told, we are unable to meet local demand for dried coconuts and products, so as a board, our main objective is to maintain the viability of the industry and the life of the industry so that we can produce enough bearing coconut trees to support our domestic and international demands."

Jamaica, like other countries in the region, has been missing out on the growing demand for fresh coconut produce, as well as coconut-based health and beauty products.

A major issue of concern was the failure of the Caribbean to meet the growing demand for fresh coconut produce and coconut-based health and beauty products, as a result also of other production-related constraints such as pests and diseases as well as limited market access among other things.

The 'Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean' will undertake interventions in four key areas - regional cooperation, productivity and sustainability, market information and risk management, in order to help individual countries and the region as a whole tap into the lucrative billion-dollar global market.

Similar workshops will be held in all nine countries as the project will utilise a participatory approach to foster coordination and collaboration between key national and regional stakeholders in the coconut value chain.

Facilitated by CARDI and the ITC, these sessions will bring together farmers, buyers, entrepreneurs and industry representatives, in a bid to identify the market constraints that limit business transactions and reduce income opportunities. Using this information, they will devise innovative interventions at different stages of the value chain to enhance global competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Francis Asiedu, CARDI's manager for technical services, explained that consultations at the highest level had identified the coconut as a crop with vast potential for helping, especially residents of rural communities, to achieve small holder empowerment through income improvement and diversification of these economies.