More than 700 banana and plantain farmers, whose crops were damaged or destroyed during the passage of Hurricane Dean in August 2007, have been benefiting from assistance under the European Union Banana Support Programme’s (EUBSP) Hurricane Dean Resuscitation/Rehabilitation Training Programme, since its inception last November.
More than 2,500 hectares of domestic banana and plantain trees, amounting to approximately 95 per cent of the country’s total cultivation at the time, were destroyed during the hurricane, resulting in millions of dollars in losses.
While all parishes were affected, Portland, St. James, and St. Mary, and to some extent, St. Thomas, were the hardest hit. The properties of more than 1,000 farmers, inclusive of the island’s two largest estates – St. Mary Banana Estates and Eastern Banana Estates in St. Thomas, were those mainly affected. The total number of growers on record, who have received assistance, is approximately 1,088, of which just about 1,000 cultivated bananas.
Manager for the Banana Improvement Programme, I.W. Wilson, tells JIS News that the support is being channeled through the Banana Trading Company (BTC), which he says, is “dedicated to providing and distributing the inputs under the various hurricane relief programmes to farmers”.
He informs that a $222 million (Euro2.18 million) contract was signed with the BTC for the provision of rehabilitation assistance in the form of fertilizers, orchard oil, and fungicides to affected farmers.
“It (assistance) also includes water management and irrigation programmes, the whole matter of disease management, as well as ensuring that technologies, through improved efficiency in the production of the farms, are being transferred to the farmers,” Mr. Wilson outlines.
He points out that the 700-odd farmers include upwards of 337 persons, who have received training in pest and disease control through 23 group meetings and 14 training sessions.
Coordinator of the EUBSP in Jamaica, Marjorie Stair, tells JIS News that previously, all inputs of the hurricane assistance programme were initially channelled through the BTC office in Port Antonio, Portland but distribution points were later established in St. Mary and St. James.
In addition to the hurricane assistance programme, the EU is providing support for the certification of farmers for the Global Partnership for Good Agricultural Practices (GLOBALGAP), and Fair Trade Niche regime.
GLOBALGAP is a private sector body that sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural products worldwide. The certification is awarded to farms, which demonstrate that their daily operations minimize the detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations; reduce the use of chemical inputs; and employ a responsible approach to worker health and safety as well as animal welfare.
Formerly known as European Union Retail Enterprises Protocol for Good Agricultural Practices (EUREGAP), GLOBALGAP effectively serves as a benchmark for good agricultural practices anywhere in the world.
Mr. Wilson informs that more than of 56 farmers, along with the Eastern and St. Mary Banana Estates, have been certified under GLOBALGAP. Additionally, both estates are certified under the Fair Trade Niche regime.
“The benefit of the certification programme is that it allows the farmers to gain access to the market in the United Kingdom (UK). The world. as it is now.has particular food standards that must be maintained, and in particular to banana. In order for them (farmers) to export into Europe, they must be GLOBALGAP certified,” Mr. Wilson explains.
He informs that arrangements are being made for the GLOBALGAP certification of an additional 50 farmers by the end of the year.
Regarding the Fair Trade Niche regime, Mr. Wilson said this allows the farmers to “claim a premium price” with respect to bananas marketed, particularly within supermarket chains in the UK.
Mrs. Stair further explains that the administrators of the regime visit countries with which arrangements exist for the supply of bananas, and set a country price. “They look at the cost of production.and come up with a country price. So last year, the country price (for Jamaica), I think, (was) $9.67 per box,” she notes.
In addition to the price, Mrs. Stair says that a $1 premium per box is paid for community activities, which are undertaken by groups spearheaded by both small and large scale farmers. “So those groups will determine what happens to that $1 per box and it can be anything – (work) on a basic school, a road, whatever is needed in the community,” she outlines.Another programme which is providing assistance to farmers is the Rural Diversification Programme (RDP).
Programme Manager, Leslie Grant, tells JIS News that the RDP aims to assist banana farmers, who suffered displacement, particularly arising out of losses sustained from hurricanes and bad weather, and the resultant decline in fruit production. “The idea is for them to be involved in alternative enterprises to banana production, and these should really be sustainable,” he notes.
He says that since the programme started in February 2007, “we have issued (and) publicized calls for proposals to go into different enterprises,” pointing out that these include: business, agricultural, and non-agricultural ventures. The calls for proposals, he says, has been extended to incorporate organizations that are willing to support enterprises in rural areas.
Mr. Grant discloses that the invitations are for projects ranging from just over $1 million (Euro10,000) to a maximum of $10 million (Euro100,000) in grant support. A total of 75 per cent of the grant funding is provided, with the applicant/beneficiary required to find the remaining 25 per cent. Some eight such projects, totaling $55 million, have been approved since last February.
The areas of activity include livestock development, specifically milk production, vegetable production, block making/building construction, agro-processing and baking.
In addition, an evaluation of proposals amounting to under Euro10,000 was undertaken, and some 13 such approved from approximately 20 submitted. Consideration has been given to entering into contractual arrangements with the applicants for implementation of these projects, Mr. Grant says.