Jamaican News

EU-Funded Programme Breathes New Life into Banana Sector

Stakeholder activities under a $677.85-million (€5-million) European Union (EU) grant-funded programme to revitalise Jamaica’s banana sector, which had been seriously impacted by the weather in recent years, are far advanced.

The Jamaica Banana Accompanying Measures (JBAM) Programme, being implemented by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), aims to spur increased production and other key outcomes, following recent fallouts caused by hurricanes and tropical storms, among other weather-related events.

Its implementation commenced in 2012 following the passage of Tropical Storm Gustav in 2008, which ravaged thousands of acres of banana, resulting in farmers incurring billions of dollars in losses, and industry activities scaling down over the ensuing three years.

Agricultural Attaché with the EU Delegation in Jamaica, Stefano Cillí, tells JIS News that the JBAM allocation is part of approximately $6.7 billion (€50 million) in overall funding support extended to the industry over the last 10 years.

He indicates that the JBAM allocation has been funding stakeholder activities aimed at boosting the industry’s operations to world-class standards.

These include provisions to the Banana Board and All Island Banana Growers Association (AIBGA) to facilitate technical support and capacity building; and direct inputs for farmers and other stakeholders targeting infrastructure development, and enabling farmers to attain Global Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification in order to export.

Global GAP is the international organisation that assures the implementation of safe, sustainable agricultural practices worldwide.

The certification exercise is being administered by the Board under the EU-funded Banana Export Expansion Programme (BEEP).

Programme Coordinator for JBAM at RADA, Vaughn Barnaby, tells JIS News that the entity has been pivotal in the project’s implementation.

He says RADA’s undertaking has included facilitating the Banana Board’s production of approximately 120,000 tissue culture plantlets per annum for distribution to farmers in the five main banana-producing parishes where JBAM is being implemented.

The beneficiary parishes are St. Catherine, St. Thomas, Portland, St. Mary and St. James. There are approximately 2,000 farmers and some 3,500 acres under cultivation islandwide.

Mr. Barnaby explains that provision of the plantlets is expected to contribute to increased productivity by the farmers, thereby better positioning them to meet the domestic demand, tap into prospective export markets and strengthen their foothold in existing ones.

Additionally, he says the AIBGA is being supported in constructing a $30-million processing facility in St. Mary.

Work, which started in December 2016, is slated for completion by the end of March.

Mr. Barnaby points out that the facility will enable the farmers and other stakeholders to get involved in value-chain production.

“So, instead of just (delivering) fresh produce, they can produce banana and plantain chips and, in the future, look at other banana products. We are actually empowering the growers to be involved further along the value chain, which will provide more income and profits. We are positioning the entire industry to be more profitable,” he says.

Approximately 1,600 farmers are expected to benefit from the overall activities, which Mr, Barnaby anticipates will have positive outcomes for stakeholders and their families in the predominantly banana-producing areas.

“We will positively impact those to enable more sustainable rural development and a stable rural economy,” he adds.

Banana Board General Manager, Janet Conie, says the sector’s revitalisation also includes introducing new varieties of bananas, notably the FIHA 25 which is widely cultivated in Central America.

Mrs. Conie says the FIHA 25 provides up to 50 per cent greater yield, adding that “it is good for cooking and (producing) chips”.

Gros Michel, Lacatan and Robusta have been the main longstanding traditional varieties grown locally for many years.

Mrs. Conie says the Board is seeking to further increase banana exports, which resumed in 2011 after a three-year break due to the industry’s devastation by Tropical Storm Gustav.

Fruits have been exported to the Cayman Islands, Canada, the United States and United Kingdom.

“We have been steadily increasing imports… since we started again in 2011, after stopping in 2008. In 2013, we supplied 78 tonnes… and last year it was 410 tonnes, representing a 29 per cent increase over the 312 in 2015,” Mrs. Conie outlines.

She says based on the targeted 2017 completion of BEEP’s implementation, “We expect that by the end of the year, we will be doing more where exporting is concerned…especially to non-traditional markets in Europe.”

This thrust, Mrs. Conie further states, is expected to be boosted by the provision of the Williams banana variety, which she says is suited for the export market.

Meanwhile, several JBAM beneficiaries are hailing the programme’s implementation.

Clive Blackwood of Gibraltar, St. Mary, who is a new banana farmer, tells JIS News that the assistance extended has been “tremendous”.

He says the provisions have enabled him to install a storage facility for fertilisers and pesticides and a lunch room and station area for workers. “By ourselves, we would not have been able to… because of the financial demand,” he adds.

These and other inputs, some of which are procured by the farmers out of their own resources, or from alternative sources, are prerequisites for Global GAP certification.

Mr. Blackwood points out that his employees are “enthusiastic” about developments at the five-acre property, adding that they look forward to coming to work every day, “because there is no (other) farm… around here that is as equipped as this one”.

“If I were to say that the assistance from the European Union and Banana Board is good, it would be an understatement. This has been an excellent springboard. In fact, I have started seeing farming from a different perspective. Economically, I am looking at a minimum gross annual return of $5 million,” he says.

National 2016 champion young farmer, Andrew Simpson, whose farm is located in Hampstead, St. Mary, cites technical support as a key benefit he has derived from JBAM.

“I knew nothing about banana farming when I started,” Mr. Simpson says, adding that the resulting technical support provided, particularly by the Banana Board, not only enabled him to consolidate his operations, but also to programme an expansion in acreage under cultivation.

“My target is 15 acres and I am about half-way there. I cultivate a combination of FIHA, Robusta and another variety named the Grand Naine. I also cultivate the Horse plantain and a small portion of FIHA plantain,” he tells JIS News.

Mr. Simpson says he targets both the domestic and export markets, and that his farm has already delivered two overseas shipments of produce.

“This is expected to continue for the rest of the year and to grow. So, the programme is definitely helpful, positive and good,” he adds.

Mr. Cillí welcomes the beneficiaries’ enthusiasm and activities under JBAM and, by extension, BEEP.

“What I like is their involvement as also their technical achievements… they can perform very well. They can reach very far with good support from the Government, because we are fully supporting the administration, and all programmes are (being delivered) through the Government of Jamaica,” he adds.

Meanwhile, with JBAM slated to end in 2017, Mr. Barnaby says RADA will continue to support banana-industry developments as the agricultural sector’s prime extension agency.

Article by: Douglas McIntosh
Photo from: www.jis.gov.jm

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