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Coffee aid not strong enough

Published:Thursday | March 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

THE $20 MILLION Government is making available to the coffee industry towards covering the cost of fertiliser is woefully short of the estimated $100 million needed to adequately address the current crop needs for input alone.

"This is a good jump-start, but $20 million now would be able to purchase about 6,000 50kg bags, considering the real demand is about 30,000 bags for total industry," advisory services manager at the Coffee Industry Board (CIB) Louis Campbell told AgroGleaner recently.

He was speaking against the background of a $29-million grant Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke announced on Thursday, February 23. Some $9 million will be used to provide chemicals for use in fighting berry borer infestation, while $20 million is earmarked for buying fertiliser for about 4,000 farmers. However, they must be registered with the CIB and have delivered coffee within the past 24 months.

Mutual interest

In recognition of this serious shortfall to fund inputs for the 2012/13 crop, farmers have been moving to engage dealers to get them to advance credit, which would then be deducted from their payments. However, some dealers are hesitant to do so, having been burnt in the past when farmers took their money and sold the coffee elsewhere.

Campbell makes a case for the farmers: "With the money to provide inputs, they would be able to produce better-quality coffee which, in turn, would be sold to the dealers. So the farmers are thinking that it would be in their mutual interests for this to happen."

Derrick Simon, who heads the Jamaica Coffee Growers' Association, which represents some 12,000 members, says he is aware of farmers double-crossing dealers by accepting their financial aid and then selling elsewhere. However, he was quick to point out that the association is against this practice, which he admits may be behind the selective buying now being practised by some dealers.

This, according to Simon, is unfair to coffee farmers who, by law, are prevented from marketing their coffee, which is a role reserved for the CIB. In fact, he went so far as to cast some of the blame for the farmers' actions on the ineffectiveness of the board.

"It is a function of weak regulation that this should be allowed to happen in the first place. So the industry is still in need of regulation," Simon told AgroGleaner.