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Western Jamaica can save the banana industry - Harris

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2016 | 5:21 PMMark Titus
St John Williams (stooping at right), extension officer with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, talks to farmers at a production and marketing organisation conference at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium in 2009.
Mayor Glendon Harris

Glendon Harris, the chairman of the St James branch of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), says western Jamaica could rescue the island's banana industry if the region got the same kind of support that is being given to the eastern parishes.

"Banana is on the up in western Jamaica and with the input of the European Union, the agriculture ministry and the All Island Banana Growers Association, farmers are responding," said Harris, who is also the mayor of Montego Bay.

"If we got the support that the eastern parishes received over the years, we would have achieved a lot more, but with all the losses and the frustration of farmers on that part of the island, the west will have to be the saviour for the sector," Harris said.

"It is a fact that, over the years, most of the money was invested in the eastern parishes and on many occasions, they have seen a total wipe out of these investments by natural disasters - St Mary is a perfect example," continued Harris, who is also a long-standing banana farmer. "But, even though we (in the west) have been affected on some occasions, it has never been more than 70 per cent."

more than 400 farmers

St James is one of six traditional banana-growing parishes in Jamaica. The parish, which is more popular as a tourist destination, has more than 400 banana farmers, mainly located in the southern belt, in communities such as Kensington, Maroon Town, Flagstaff, Garlands, Horse Guards, Amity Hall, Montego Valley, Cambridge and Catadupa.

The others traditional banana-growing parishes are St Catherine, St Thomas, St Mary, Portland and Clarendon.

The parishes of St Mary, Portland, and St Thomas once dominated the islandwide production of bananas, with shiploads of the popular fruit being sent to Europe and North America from Port Antonio. However, the 'gold', as it was once referred to in the northeastern region, dwindled into partial oblivion after natural disasters, over several years, left hundreds of hectares of the crop, valued at millions of dollars, flattened.

In October 2012, the entire island took a severe battering from Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed some 1,500 hectares of bananas, affecting the livelihood of close to 11,000 farmers. Portland and St Mary suffered an average of 90 per cent in losses to banana cultivation, while the western region averaged some 50 per cent - a total dollar value of more than J$1 billion.