JIS News

The banana industry should be fully recovered from the effects of Hurricane Ivan by July, but export of the fruit could start from as early as April, says Dr. Marshall Hall, Chairman of the Banana Company of Jamaica (BECo).
He tells JIS News, that since the passage of the Hurricane in September, the industry has lost more than US$16 million in foreign exchange earnings, but all this should change once the banana boats begin to sail again within the next four months.
“We expect to start exporting bananas again by April/May of this year. The initial tonnage will be small but we anticipate them getting back to more or less full monthly levels by June to July of this year,” Dr. Hall tells JIS News.
He says that the banana industry is on a clear path to recovery as the fruit will be ready for the local market by March. “As far as the recovery of the banana industry is concerned, plans are well advanced and most farmers have brought back their fields (into production) and we anticipate that local sales should commence as early as March or April of this year.
He notes that the country earns about US$30 million per year from the banana industry. “If you put that on a monthly basis, we are losing over US$2 million in revenues every month and that would have happened since Hurricane Ivan in September and that will continue until we resume exporting. So we are losing about US$16 million in revenues over these seven months and we hope to see it come back once we start exporting again in April/May,” he reasons.
Dr. Hall explains that bananas take about six to nine months to recover after a hurricane, depending on the level of resuscitation work done, but the extensive damage to fields made the process of recovery slow.
He notes however, that the European Union stepped in to assist the process and based on this assistance, he anticipates that by about March, the sector will reach about 25 to 30 per cent of normal sales and this is expected to gradually increase through to June or July of this year.
Dr. Hall says that the farmers were fortunate to have retained most, if not all, of the young banana suckers, thus preventing the need to import to replenish the stock. “Most of the farmers would have had suckers because the way hurricane hit, it damaged the plants that are taller and therefore the shorter plants, which would have been the suckers coming along are left, so most of what we have come from our original stock and so no new suckers as such have come in,” Dr. Hall informs JIS News.
He says that there are plans to eventually import suckers into the island to expand production as part of an ongoing programme being supported by the EU. “We anticipate some growth in the banana industry and therefore later on this year, suckers will come in under the European Union Banana Support Programme and these will be provided to farmers as part of a growth exercise and not as part of a Hurricane Ivan exercise, ” he points out.
Currently, Jamaica is short of bananas for local consumption but the government has put stringent measures in place to prevent the importation of the fruit. “We don’t advocate importing bananas because they bring a lot of diseases along with it”, explains Dr. Hall.
He acknowledges that banana chip producers are most affected by the decision, but reiterates that the move is intended to protect the industry from diseases. “We are asking everyone to bear with us,” he pleads, noting that, “if diseases are transported into the island via bananas, this could ruin, if not wipe out the banana industry”.
“To the best of my knowledge, no banana exporting country in the world would allow green banana exports to come in because bananas suffer from a range of diseases. Each of these diseases have different strains and so we just have to guard against that . so one has to be very vigilant about these things,” Dr. Hall adds.
Expounding further on the EU support for the industry, Dr. Hall says that they stepped in to provide funds for farmers, many of whom were without adequate insurance coverage due to significant increases in the cost of reinsurance by international insurers. “The industry was somewhat less covered by insurance than the traditional years. This is what may have slowed down the pace of recovery. However, once the EU programme of support was on stream, farmers picked up steam again and came back very quickly,” he says.
The EU has an ongoing programme of support to the local banana industry and following the hurricane, application was made to Brussels for the programme to be modified for the recovery and reconstruction of the sector.
Money was provided, which Dr. Hall says, will be disbursed in the form of material support by way of grants and loans.
“Specifically, for the hurricane, we have been able to persuade them to ultimately make the support by way of grants and that will come to farmers as of this month January,” he informs. He adds that BECo, in anticipation of that move, had provided farmers with loan material support and “all of those things have enabled the farmers to recover this quickly”.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hall tells JIS News, workers who were sent home after the hurricane have resumed their jobs, except for the harvesters, who are expected back by March or April.
Turning to the ongoing discussions surrounding the EU’s decision to introduce a tariff only regime in 2006, Dr. Hall says that BECo remains optimistic that the negotiations will go in favour of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states.
The EU has decided to introduce a tariff-only regime for the importation of bananas in January 2006, which means that while Jamaica and other ACP countries will still enjoy preferential access to markets in Europe, other countries will have to pay a tariff but there will be no restriction on quantity. “Therefore, the extent of the benefit will depend on how large the tariff is,” Dr. Hall explains.
The level of tariff is subject to negotiations between the EU and the other countries and those discussions are now taking place. The EU has proposed a tariff of 230 Euros per tonne and those countries that are likely to pay the tariff have indicated that the level is too high, while the ACP countries say it is too low.
“How much preference Jamaica and other ACP countries will have available to them will be a function of where those negotiations end up and it is too early at this point to know where it will end up,” Dr. Hall tells JIS News.

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