The banana industry should be fully recovered from the devastation sustained during the passage of Hurricane Dean by the end of Summer, says Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Jamaica Producers Group, Jeffrey Hall.
He tells JIS News that export of banana chips has already commenced. “While export of fresh bananas have not really started in real volumes as yet, over the month of May, the export of banana chips from Jamaica resumed and that is a big user of banana as you know, so that is great and is really good news. We are now exporting banana chips to the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA),” he informs.
Hurricane Dean, which affected the island last August, devastated the country’s banana industry, leaving hundreds of millions in damage, with the main producing parishes of St. Mary, St. Thomas and Portland being hardest hit.
Mr. Hall tells JIS News that the hurricane significantly impacted the export and domestic markets. “They (the markets) were adversely affected, (and this resulted in the) loss of market positions, both in the export market in the United Kingdom as well as the local markets where bananas compete with other fruits and banana chips competed with imported snacks,” he points out.
After a natural disaster, bananas take about six to nine months to recover, depending on the level of resuscitation work that needs to be undertaken. With regards to Hurricane Dean, extensive damage was done to the fields, and this made the process of recovery slow.
Mr. Hall informs that resuscitation of the industry began in October of last year and bananas began to re-appear in commercial volumes in April/May of this calendar year. He notes that more than 150 registered export farmers have re-planted since the passage of the hurricane.
“I think this is a significant amount and consider this as wonderful for the export sector. That is well over a thousand employees and that is exactly what Jamaica needs to be doing,” he says.
He further notes that the Government and the European Union (EU) have stepped in to assist the recovery process. The assistance has been tremendous and has allowed for replanting while bringing back direct employment to the industry. Employment has commenced in the areas of processing, growing and shipping.
“With regards to the formal export farms, well over a thousand acres of bananas has been re-planted. We alone at the Jamaica Producers have over 1, 500 acres re-planted since Dean,” Mr. Hall says.
Outlining the support from the Government, the Jamaica Producers CEO says that a “very innovative” loan scheme was introduced to re-build the Jamaican farms and as a result of that financing, already, more than 1,000 acres of banana have been re-planted.”
The loan scheme, he says, is innovative in that it includes a provision that allows farmers to re-structure loan payments in the event of another hurricane, while requiring timely re-payment if there is no hurricane. The interest rate is seven per cent with five years for repayment of the loan.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, J.C. Hutchinson, informs that the US$4 million loan, which is being made available through the Banana Export Company (BECO), primarily targets export banana.
“The Government has also assumed the hurricane risk associated with the loan. Thanks to this intervention, export farmers have been rehabilitating their fields,” he says. He notes that the projected outturn expected from export for the rest of the financial year is some 13,000 tonnes.
In addition to longstanding assistance to the industry, through the Banana Support Programme, the EU is providing export and domestic farmers with much needed inputs to assist the replanting process. The value of the support is estimated at $1.1 billion. “The EU is providing material support including fertilizers and agro-chemicals,” Mr. Hall says, noting that the EU has also stepped in to provide aid for farmers, many of whom were without adequate insurance coverage.
Mr. Hutchinson, in the meantime, says that the Government is “committed to providing the infrastructure, technical and marketing support to build a strong domestic sector,” and has encouraged farmers to become more organized to take advantage of aid being provided for the resuscitation of the industry and to promote the development of other agriculture-related enterprises and social and economic advances.
In light of the fragility of the trees, Mr. Hall notes that insurance is the only way in which the industry can be protected during the passage of hurricanes or in the event of heavy winds.
“What we need to do is have insurance,” he says, while lauding the financing scheme set up by the Government, which “allows for the grower to recover after the hurricane.”
The annual export of banana averages some 20,000 tonnes, while the domestic market demands more than 100,000 tonnes.