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The Ministry of Agriculture and Lands today (March 27), received agricultural inputs valued at more than $120 million, on behalf of banana farmers whose crops were damaged during the passage of Hurricanes Dennis and Emily in 2005.
These inputs form part of the continued hurricane relief assistance by the European Union (EU), under its Banana Support Programme, to rehabilitate some 1,002 hectares of export and domestic banana fields in Portland, St. Thomas and St. Mary.
Speaking at the handing over ceremony at the Ministry’s offices on Old Hope Road, Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Roger Clarke explained that in order to ensure equity and transparency, the inputs would be distributed to the farmers by the Banana Trading Company, based on a percentage of the damage sustained to their crops during the hurricanes.
He further noted that all banana farmers slated to receive these inputs are expected to contribute 20 per cent of the total cost of the inputs received.
The Minister added that 12 per cent of the sum would go towards a Catastrophe Fund, which is now being established by the local Banana Board and the European Commission.
“As the name implies, the proceeds from this Fund will be used in the future, to assist farmers in the industry who have suffered losses as a result of natural disasters,” he stated.
Mr. Clarke expressed gratitude to the EU for their continued assistance to banana farmers, pointing out that the industry, since 1996, has received over $4 billion in assistance.
He pointed out that the EU Banana Support Programme has, over the past decade, assisted the agricultural sector to improve efficiencies within the industry, and to upgrade the quality of the fruit for export, to meet the ever increasing competition in the international market.
Mr. Clarke noted that the EU has helped local banana farmers to comply with Euregap protocol, and to achieve fair-trade preparedness through the allocation of some $74 million, which would be used to provide training and infrastructural upgrading of the production process.
“The fair-trade marketing organisation provides a viable alternative to the direct competition from more economically priced Latin-American grown bananas. However, in order to be certified for fair-trade, farms must first be Euregap compliance,” he pointed out, adding that in light of the gradual erosion of preferential tariffs for bananas exported to Europe, this fair-trade alternative was creating niche market opportunity, “which we must seek to exploit at all cost”.
Meanwhile, Head of the European Delegation in Jamaica, Ambassador Marco Mazzocchi-Alemani, said he was very pleased to have handed over the agricultural inputs to the government to assist in the long-term sustainability of the banana industry.
“The materials being handed over demonstrate the commitment of the EU, through the EU funded Banana Support Programme, to support its traditional suppliers of bananas to improve efficiency and competitiveness,” he said.