Mon | Jan 17, 2022

Banana Board to develop protocols to boost plantain production

Published:Saturday | November 27, 2021 | 12:07 AM
Howard Warren, a farmer in St Ann carries a bunch of plantains from his field.
Howard Warren, a farmer in St Ann carries a bunch of plantains from his field.
Ripe plantains ready to be cooked. The Banana Board is seeking to boost plantain production.
Ripe plantains ready to be cooked. The Banana Board is seeking to boost plantain production.

Plantain – green or ripe, fried, boiled or baked – is a welcome treat on the Jamaican breakfast or dinner plate, and is a produce that is being prioritised by the Banana Board as it looks to meet market demand and increase earnings from the crop.

General manager of the Banana Board, Janet Conie, says the revenue potential for plantain is significant, rivalling that of banana.

She says that preparatory work is underway to establish protocols to improve and formalise cultivation of the crop to supply local, regional, and international markets. These include markets in Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

The initiative forms part of the Plantain Pilot Project, which aims to establish 10 hectares (25 acres) of irrigated plantain.

The project was launched in June of this year by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, in collaboration with the Banana Board.

Among the objectives are increasing overall production of plantain by 300 tonnes after year one, improving crop quality in keeping with local and international food-safety standards, and improving the availability of plantains on a sustained basis throughout the second year.

Heighten awareness

The project also aims to heighten awareness of the importance of irrigation in reducing the effects of climate change on production and productivity.

Conie says, currently, plantain is not cultivated with documented certified standards.

“We are seeking to establish that in the new project, and we want to ensure that we meet the standards. The most important thing that we want to tell everyone is that there is a great demand for plantains. We want to meet those demands locally and for [export purposes] and for what we call ‘exporting on shore’, which is [supplying] the hotels, as they require standards as well,” she pointed out.

Conie tells JIS News that there is a shortage of supply to the local market and plantain is not being exported at this time, resulting in high prices for the product.

She notes that the farm gate price for an 18-kilogramme box of plantain is $ 3,000, whereas a similar weight of bananas costs $2,200 per box.

Conie says that the plantain industry, for the most part, has not benefited from the high-technology production systems that are utilised for the banana industry to increase yield, productivity, and quality.

As such, she notes that the protocols being developed for plantain production will be similar to those that already exist for bananas.

This, she says, will signal to the public that banana and plantain are safe and are of the highest quality, thereby inspiring consumer confidence, improving market access and increasing efficiencies in production.

The move will also encourage more farmers to take up plantain cultivation.

“What is certain in the industry is that the revenues from plantain seriously outweigh the revenues from bananas, and the revenues from banana are high. The overall outlook for the farmer is very good. We could grow more plantains with the right standards because the markets are waiting for it,” she points out.

The Banana Board, through its farm certification programme, has the responsibility to facilitate banana farmers to produce fruits and harvest them according to standards of best practices.

The certification programme has two components – GLOBALGAP Certification and Domestic Certification.

GLOBALGAP standards address risk analysis and risk prevention for the purpose of food safety, traceability, worker health and welfare, energy management, environmental pollution, and conservation management.

This certification is a requirement for banana (fresh and processed) exports to overseas markets and for farmers positioning themselves for high-end markets locally.

GLOBALGAP banana farmers are required to satisfy several conditions – documentation and records management; specialised training for workers and farmers; adequate welfare facilities for workers; strategic location of signs on farms, such as safety/potential hazards; visitor/worker alert signs; produce traceability; farm infrastructure for storage of fertiliser, pesticides, and farm produce; and workers’ welfare and safety.

Meanwhile, domestic certification promotes good agricultural practices to achieve food safety, worker safety, and environmental sustainability.

Good production practices

Domestic certified farmers must satisfy the following conditions – good production practices, maintain minimum facility for pesticide storage, demonstrate safe and proper use of chemicals, maintain records, and farms processing fruits for the ripe trade must have sanitary convenience.

The protocols are also intended to establish measures to prevent common diseases and pests that cause diminished yield of the crop. These include Black Sigatoka, weevil, and nematodes, as well as climate-change mitigation activities.

The plantain-improvement project has already commenced with the collection of data from those areas where production is taking place.

Conie says, in the first instance, a select group of plantain farmers will be coached to implement the standards that are being put in place.

She says that the protocols, which will include a quality-control manual to provide packaged guidelines to address each unique challenge/threat that could blight the cultivation process, will detail best practices at every stage of production “from field to fork”.

Data from the Banana Board indicate that there was a slump in plantain production levels between 2011 and 2020.

In 2012, the passage of Hurricane Sandy severely impacted the plantain crop, and this saw the production of only 35,000 metric tonnes of the fruit that year. The slump continued the following year, with a low crop yield of 30,000 metric tonnes in 2013.

Conie says there was gradual improvement in production levels over the next five years, with 40,000 tonnes produced in 2014 and reaching a high of almost 50,000 tonnes in 2018, before declining to 45,000 tonnes in 2019.

Conie attributes the decline to the lack of climate-smart technologies and mitigation measures being applied to the production process to assist in the rallying of crop production, and says this will be an area of focus in the development of the protocols.

For 2019 and 2020, there was a slight increase of 45,140 tonnes and 45,927 tonnes, respectively.

“We are going back up because we are trying to put these measures in place, but we need to do it at a faster rate to meet the production demands that we have. We believe that, when we develop the protocols so that the standards are stabilised and sustainable, we can negotiate better prices.

“When we look at the return on investment for the plantain project, it is looking so good,” Conie says.