KINGSTON — Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Reginald Budhan, says that Jamaica has the potential to create a vibrant cassava starch industry to serve local and export markets.
He acknowledged that while the task would not be easy, given the high level of protection characterising international markets as many countries seek to protect their domestic starch industries, “there is no doubt in the potential and range of opportunities”.
"This means that we need to build a strong industry involving our famers on a much wider scale. It means we have to generate more interest and create greater consciousness among consumers as we seek to build a firm local base from which we can expand into overseas markets,” Mr. Budhan stated yesterday December 5 at the opening of the 2011 Starch conference at the Mona Visitor’s Lodge in St. Andrew.
He noted that while cassava is an essential part of the diet of more than 500 million people, Jamaica has failed to recognise the benefit that can be derived from the establishment of the cassava starch industry.
He said that in recent times, there has been an expansion in use of cassava starch with a trend towards production of modified and hydrolyzed starches, which command higher prices and offers an attractive area for Jamaica. “However starch extraction accounts for a very small part of total cassava in Latin America and the Caribbean,” he lamented.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in its November 2011 Food Outlook, said that global cassava output is expected to rise by more than six per cent this year over 2010.
In 2009, Jamaica imported more than 2.5 million kilograms of starch valued at US$890,000, while in 2010, just over a million kilograms of starch valued at US$998,000 were imported into the island.
On the other hand, total export of pure starch and value-added products for 2009 amounted to almost 9,000 kilograms valued at US$9,934, while in 2010; the country earned US$8,200 from the export of 500 kilograms of pure starch and value-added products.
The two-day conference, organised by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) and the University of the West Indies (UWI), aims to promote research and to encourage production and development of the starch industry in Jamaica. It is being held under the theme:’Cassava Starch – Exploring a New Economic Frontier.'
Executive Director, BSJ, Noel Osbourne, said that the conference is timely. “A country cannot, in its present reality, ignore any opportunity or any potential for agricultural or industrial growth and development, given the potential impact of the cultivation of cassava for the development of primary agriculture, for the production of food starch and other products to reduce the nation’s import bill and to increase job creation,” he stated.
The conference will include presentations from representatives of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, which are considered powerhouses in the starch industry.
Representatives from the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium to Support Cassava Research and Development (CLAYUCA), which is the regional authority in cassava cultivation, processing, research and development, is scheduled to offer a more provincial perspective and understanding of the potential challenges and rewards of this new economic venture.
Experts from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago will also make contributions.
By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter