Jamaica’s banana industry is to benefit from a €180,000 ($20 million) grant under the European Union Banana Support Programme (EUBSP), which will be used to effect institutional strengthening within the sector.
This commitment was formalised at a contract signing at the All Island Banana Growers Association’s (AIBGA) South Avenue offices in Kingston on Wednesday May 2, 2012 involving AIBGA Chairperson, Grethel Sessing, and EU Delegation Head in Jamaica, Her Excellency Ambassador Paola Amadei. The proceedings were witnessed by Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke.
Outlining the provisions in a brief address, Mr. Clarke said these included: capacity building of the AIBGA’s district offices; rehabilitation of existing infrastructure; construction and installation of a new ripening facility; and recruitment of a marketing manager to implement a marketing plan for the industry.
He expressed the hope that these targets would be fulfilled within the next 12 months, adding that “we are confident that the goals are realistic and can be achieved”.
The Minister noted that the latest allocation was timely, in light of the need to address the effects of factors related to the weather and pricing regime. He also mentioned the “huge bill” for the importation of value-added products, such as banana chips, which he said, pushed the import bill from US$3.4 million in 2010, to US$8.7 million in 2011.
“It is very important…that the AIBGA organises its operations and assist in mobilising its (over 1400) members. With more farmers engaged in the process and with increased production, we hope to put a significant dent in that importation of banana chips and other value-added products into this country,” he stated.
Minister Clarke said that the grant agreement signals the government’s commitment and that of the EU to improve efficiencies and ensure sustainability within the sector, which is a major employer.
“The European Union Banana Support Programme plays a critical role in promoting sustainable development in traditional banana growing areas. And so, today’s contract signing is timely, as it targets the organisational component of the industry,’Mr. Clarke said.
Mrs. Sessing, in welcoming the grant, said the funds will assist in repositioning the AIBGA to better respond to the needs of its members.
She argued that, as the island’s sole banana planting and growers association, the AIBGA was the “most practical” group to pilot the future growth and development of its members and, by extension, the industry.
“It is expected that at the end of this project, and followed by the implementation of the accompanying measures,… the AIBGA will be in a position to respond to almost all the needs of growers and create competitive and sustainable industry,” Mrs. Sessing stated.
In her remarks, Ambassador Amadei, said that Jamaica’s banana industry has benefitted from some $4 billion in EU funding assistance since 1996, said the latest grant would boost the sector, enabling the stakeholders to be competitive both in the local and export markets.
In noting the challenges that the industry has experienced over the years, the EU Head had high praise for the sector’s resilience, demonstrated in its ability to adapt to major changes.
“(From) what I see…(it) shows that the industry has been capable to adapt and it’s in a better shape than it would have seemed to be, some years ago,” Ambassador Amadei contended.
By Douglas Mcintosh, JIS Reporter