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Coffee ready for revival - JAS urges government to pump money into declining sector

Published:Friday | March 17, 2017 | 8:11 AMRyon Jones
A coffee farmer looks at some seedlings recently distributed in the Mavis Bank area of St Andrew as part of efforts to more than double the production of the beans in the community.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Norman Grant, believes that while Jamaica's coffee production has declined sharply over the last 25 years, the time is ripe for the industry to grow.

Grant said 25 years ago approximately 4.5 million pounds of non-Blue Mountain coffee and roughly 500,000 pounds of Blue Mountain coffee were being produced in Jamaica annually.

"Today, that has been reserved. The production last year, for example, was somewhere in the region of about two million pounds of Blue Mountain coffee and about 400,000 pounds of non-Blue Mountain coffee," said Grant, who is also the CEO of the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory.

"The price for Blue Mountain coffee and also non-Blue Mountain coffee for this crop has decreased because the demand on the world market has decreased. At the beginning of the crop we were talking about 275,000 boxes or 2.7 to 3 million pounds, but we could see a drop to as low as three million pounds between Blue Mountain and non-Blue Mountain," added Grant.

silver lining

But Grant is confident that there is a silver lining behind the dark clouds over the local coffee industry, and the government should seize the moment.

According to Grant, the government should pump more money into the sector, which could see the creation of more jobs, the expansion of the income of the farm families, saving of foreign exchange, and most important, the earning of well-needed foreign exchange for the country.

"We have to also look at the diversification of the market, because right now Japan is buying 70 per cent of our production, 20 per cent goes to the United States and the other 10 per cent to Europe and the rest of the world," said Grant, as he echoed a call by executive member of the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association (JCGA), Oswald O'Meally, during a Gleaner Editors' Forum recently.

One of the evils of the Jamaican coffee is that Jamaica has never marketed Jamaican coffee," said O'Meally.

"The Japanese and everybody have marketed it and built a brand, so we are really order takers. Every year you hear that there is a glut of coffee in Japan, but we are not producing that glut. So where is it coming from?

"Why can't we market the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee with the tourism industry? Until we reach the stage where we market and we develop that niche we are going to be at the detriment of all the purchasers. Because in agriculture the risk is in production and the profitability is in trading, and everybody wants the profitability and nobody wants to take the risk," said O'Meally.

The JAS and the JCGA have welcomed the move by Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda to impose a cess on imported coffee but they want him to go further.

The two groups want the value-added products to be taxed with the money earned used to support Blue Mountain and non-Blue Mountain coffee farmers.

"So if you see that money going into the expansion of non-Blue Mountain coffee you will have increased production of non-Blue Mountain coffee and of Blue Mountain coffee," said Grant.

"You could very well see where the production of both Blue Mountain and non-Blue Mountain move from somewhere in the region of 2.5 million pounds to somewhere in the region of five million pounds (per annum) in five years and generating income of maybe US$35,000,000 up from US$25,000,000 per annum.

"The weighted average production per acre in Jamaica is 30 boxes, whether it is Blue Mountain or non-Blue Mountain. The challenge is to move that to 80 and 90 and 100 boxes, so you can double your income from that acre three or four times while you keep your production cost low," added Grant.