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JIS News

President of the Jamaica Agro-Processors Association (JAPA), Denise Perkins, is urging farmers to increase collaboration with agro-processors to ensure a steady supply of agricultural produce, especially for the export market.
“We try to tell our farmers what we need. We try to map their acres.[we ask] what can you give us,” she told JIS News, noting that problems of hurricanes and floods should not stop production for the export market. “We have to fill our orders or they (the importers) will not buy from us,” she points out.
The increased co-operation with farmers, Mrs. Perkins says, will ensure steady production of foodstuff to prevent the need to import items for agro-processing. “We don’t want to have to import something like peppers,” she points out, adding that, “if we could keep that money in Jamaica, the entire Jamaica would be better off.”
She notes further, that imported items such as scallion or pepper, while not expensive lacks the flavour of the homegrown produce. “What is very important, is the signature of the product, the signature taste and scent of Jamaica,” Mrs. Perkins says, and warned that standards should not be cut because of costs.
The agro-processing sector is of significant value to the Jamaican economy contributing $17.91 billion to Gross Domestic Product in 2004. The sector also impacts positively on job creation, especially in rural communities and has the value-added effect of increasing global awareness of Jamaica.
Mrs. Perkins explains that ackee exports for example, brought in an estimated $1 billion to Jamaica. She adds that, “Walkerswood, one of the 20 agro-processing companies, alone uses two million pounds of pepper,” which speaks to the money invested and the number of farmers engaged in that venture. Continuing, she notes that Walkerswood earns some US$5 million a year.
Past President of JAPA, Andrew Morales concurs that Jamaica can gain significantly from agro-processing, noting that, “in terms of the significant dollar value to Jamaica, the sky is the limit. Jamaica can earn whatever we want.a lot of things can be grown in Jamaica.we can grow grapes here. Much of Jamaica’s economy and [future] lies in agriculture.”
Agro-processing involves the canning, bottling or dehydration of fresh produce. The technique helps to minimize post harvest losses and reduces the seasonality of produce.
The main products of agro-processing are condiments such as peppers and jerk seasoning; tinned yam, ackee and calaloo; fruit juices and concentrates; and sauces, chutneys and nectars, which are exported to the Caribbean, Switzerland, Germany, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Some of the processors in the market are Eaton’s, Grace, West Best Foods, North Clarendon Processors, Island Packers and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), through its Twickenham Industry.
The Ministry of Agriculture assists agro-processors to receive concessions on farm vehicles and provides them with a list of where they can obtain produce. RADA also helps small processors to mobilize funds from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Mr. Morales, who is also the Managing Director of West Best Foods, tells JIS News that he takes advantage of the period of glut in the production of pineapple in Ginger Hill, St. Elizabeth to preserve and can the products, which are then sold to Pizza Hut and Domino’s.
“When there is a glut, we always take the farmers’ pineapples because we supply those pizza companies, which previously used imported canned pineapples,” he told JIS News. The company is working to build local demand for its canned papaya nectar, which it exports.
Meanwhile, he points to a shortage in the availability of Number 11 mango, which because of its flavour, is ideal for canned juices, while Mrs. Perkins wants greater consistency in the production of tomatoes. She notes that “currently, there is a shortage of tomatoes. We would like to be able to can tomatoes because the hotel industry needs canned tomatoes”.
In spite of the difficulties in getting regular supplies of produce, Mrs. Perkins is optimistic about the sector. “I would encourage more people to get into both farming and agro-processing [especially] if it is done scientifically [and], in sufficient quantities.do your market research. If people got into agro-processing it can create a lot more jobs,” she assures.
Mr. Morales shared the same opinion and notes that, “what people should do is work with the land.work with the agricultural product and create a value-added product”. Citing the coconut as one example, he says that it is possible to use one grated coconut, desiccate it, add something like sugar to it, and you can make a dessert or toppings for cakes or coconut cream with it, and that is processing. One coconut valued at $50 can produce value-added products valued at $500, he points out.
In terms of Jamaica competing in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, Mrs. Perkins confidently says that, “there are a few good pepper sauces out [on the market] but Jamaican pepper sauces are miles ahead in terms of flavour and packaging”.
Meanwhile, the passing of the Geographic Indication Act on February 26, 2004, will ensure the protection of the Jamaican brand against impostors and also to contribute to the standard, patent and authenticity of Jamaican products.
The Act states that only products made in Jamaica can carry the seal, Jamaican or Jamaica. The passing of the Act also partly satisfies Jamaica’s international obligations under the Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Pointing out the constraints to agro-processing Mrs. Perkins mentioned the sourcing of packaging material, glass bottles, carton boxes of excellent quality and obtaining those items at reasonable costs.
“We have to import everything [including] the glass bottles,” she tells JIS News, but assures that “agro processing can create a lot more jobs [and] we would love to attract investors to Jamaica who would put in a bottling plant. That would be great”.
The agro-processors were able to partially reduce the bottling expense by banding together and bargaining with the overseas bottling companies for lower prices.