The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has launched a new variety of disease resistant and higher yielding bananas and plantains, which are expected to facilitate increased cost efficiencies by 30 per cent for local banana farmers.
It is also expected that the new crops will help to create a sustainable value added market within three years.
The bananas and plantains, known as the Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA) variety, are said to be more resilient to the dreaded black sigatoka disease; have a lower cost of production, 25 per cent greater yield, shorter preparation and cooking time, and better consumer quality than the traditional varieties.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, said the promotion of the new crops is part of the Ministry’s efforts to revitalise and resuscitate the local banana sector. He was speaking at Banana Day activities at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), in Portland, on April 5.
The Minister also officially opened and toured the new FHIA plant nursery facilities and the demonstration plots on the campus, where farmers will be able to purchase the new banana and plantain varieties.
Two similar nursery facilities have also been opened at strategic locations across the island at the Orange River Agricultural Station in St. Mary and Knockalva Agricultural School in Hanover. There are also seven demonstration plots where farmers will be able to see the potential and learn more about the growing of the plants.
Mr. Clarke informed that the establishment of the three nursery facilities has been made possible through a grant of €134,542 from the European Union (EU) to the Banana Board, under the Banana Resuscitation Loan programme. He said approximately €85,319 was used to build and operate the nurseries and the demonstration plots at all three sites, while an additional €49,233 was spent to renovate the nursery and breeding research facilities at the Bodles Banana Breeding Research Station in St. Catherine.
The Minister argued that the 30 per cent expected increase in cost efficiency that the crop is likely to yield, “is exactly what the industry will need to be able to supply (banana) chip factories and other agri-businesses with fruits to extend the value chain and build a strong sustainable domestic market."
He expressed concern that there has been a worrying trend developing in the local banana industry, where Jamaica has been importing “more and more banana chips." In 2010, the country imported banana chips valued at US$3.7 million, while in 2011, this figure more than doubled to US$8.4 million.
“This must not happen. This is a travesty, especially as this signals that we are eating more and more chips, but from foreign farmers, while our local farmers are struggling to eke out a decent living,” he said.
“We must be able to produce all the bananas we need and this programme is to lead us in that direction,” the Minister added.
He informed that with the new banana variety, the vision of increasing production to levels of 120,000 tonnes by the year 2020 will be achievable.
Mr. Clarke commended CASE, Knockalva and the Orange River Agricultural Research Station for their “enthusiastic participation” in the programme, noting that they have all pledged to carry on operating the nurseries as business ventures after the EU funding comes to an end.
Implementation of the first phase of the programme is scheduled to come to an end in June 2012. However, the Minister said that the programme will require an extension of approximately six months, adding that this would require no additional funds.
In the meantime, Representative of the EU, Charge d’ affaires, Helen Jenkinson,said that over the years, the European Union Banana Support Programme (EUBSP) has shifted its focus more towards the economic diversification of banana dependent areas, and mitigating the negative impact of the downturn of the industry.
She noted that the recently launched programme is expected to benefit more than 1,400 banana and plantain farmers as well as agri-businesses.
Over the last 10 years, Jamaica has received more than €40 million from the EU in support of the banana sector. The aim of the EUBSP intervention has been to improve the competitiveness and productivity of the industry and at the same time, to encourage economic diversification within the banana producing areas.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter