CIB gets green light for growth
After being stalled by the Government for more than two years, the Coconut Industry Board (CIB) has been given the green light to acquire the 1,000-plus-acre Water Valley property in St Mary. The property will form the foundation of a development plan for the industry, centred on an integrated state-of-the-art coconut processing plant comprising a seed garden, a nursery, water-bottling, oil extraction, and desiccated coconut operations.
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw signed off on the development plant last month, more than a year after he used the 2017 St Mary Agri Expo to announce a quantum shift in policy from his predecessor, Karl Samuda, who had stalled the acquisition, opting to engage in court to extract at least $2 billion worth of the estimated $4 billion accrued from interest on dividends in Seprod (Soap and Edible Products) in which the CIB is a major shareholder.
“We’re no longer in negotiation because we have reached a stage now where only a legal determination will lead us forward with this issue. So it will be handed over to the attorney general to guide in the way forward,” Samuda told The Gleaner in November 2017. However, shortly after taking control of the agriculture portfolio in April last year, Shaw signalled a policy shift on the matter.
“As minister, my objective is not to try to take away the money and put it into the Government’s revenue because right now, the debate is about whose is it,” argued Shaw. “That must not be the debate. The real debate must be to take some of the money and help farmers get serious into coconut production all across the country, starting right here in St Mary. That must be the plan, not to take up some money to balance the Budget,” Shaw declared in his first public pronouncement on the matter.
Now, the Coconut Board is moving ahead to ramp up coconut production, which will be central to the success of the development plan, a discussion that will top the agenda for today’s annual general meeting of the CIB at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston, according to CIB Chairman Christopher Gentles.
He told The Gleaner that the mix of financing options for getting the plan off the ground would be discussed, with increased coconut planting along the St Mary and Portland belt critical to developing throughput for the factory operations, advising that small farmers would have an integral role to play, given their loyalty to the industry.
“If he has a bad year in coconuts, a major investor could choose to switch crops or get off farming altogether. The small farmers can’t do that. They appreciate the support services provided by the Coconut Board and provide critical feedback in regard to our surveillance of pests and diseases, so they are more integrally involved with Coconut Board.”
Gentles was also quick to disclose that demonstration of a climber – a sturdy, easy-to-use device acquired from India – has gone down well with coconut growers, with stock of the first 20 almost depleted, forcing the board to order 100 more. This was also on display at today’s meeting.
He pointed out that a shortage of good, honest, and reliable workers to climb coconut trees in recent years had seen growers forced to pay out exorbitant sums for this service, pushing the harvesting cost up to $10 per nut on average. The mechanical climber, which Gentles tested and found easy to use, is projected to cut the harvesting cost to $6 per nut.
Meanwhile, Yvonne Burns, general manager of the CIB, told The Gleaner that it has partnered with Michael Black Farm in Nutts River, St Thomas, to develop a line of coir, which it is looking to market to horticulturists and others in need of quality planting mediums for orchids and other crops.
She explained that this is just the latest in the range of revenue-generation avenues identified by the CIB in its effort to diversify the operations of its Coconut Shop, office and research division at 18 Waterloo Road, St Andrew.