JIS News

Members of the St. Thomas Women’s Agricultural Initiative have started a banana fibre project on their 12-hectare farm in the community of Potosi, through which they are providing indigenous raw material for the craft industry.
The group, comprising 13 women and two men, are earning extra cash, by using the trunks of the banana and plantain, normally treated as waste, to make the fibre. The material is being used to produce a variety of items such as hats, photo frames, trinket boxes, gift bags, picture frames, handbags, belts, fashion accessories, placemats, baskets and sandals as well as paper, which is used to make envelopes, invitation and greeting cards, notebooks and calendars.

Fibre extracted from the banana trunk.

Launched by the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority some three years ago to generate income through involvement in viable crop production, the St. Thomas Women’s Agricultural Initiative is aimed at providing employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for men and women in the Airy Castle and Bath communities.
The banana fibre project was introduced to the group by Parish Coordinator of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Janet Pullen, who tells JIS News that the idea was to encourage JAS groups in Eastern St. Thomas to get involved in the income-generating project. She recalls that she had seen a television programme concerning the Jamaica Business Development Centre’s (JBDC) involvement in fibre production and “I thought that this would fit nicely with the groups,” adding that a meeting was then arranged with the JBDC to discuss how they could assist the JAS groups in the parish.

Sheets of banana paper.

The JBDC has been promoting paper production from the fibre, through the use of technology originated in Japan and introduced to Jamaica in 2001. Since then, the JBDC had been holding a series of workshops islandwide to demonstrate the fibre extraction process.
Mrs. Pullen says that she arranged a series of training programmes in collaboration with the JBDC for three JAS agricultural groups in the parish, Johnstown, Richmond Gap and Bath, to teach them the basic technique of extracting the fibre.
“I put together a training programme for the three groups, but out of all the three groups, this is the only group that took it and ran with it,” she tells JIS News, noting that the availability of raw material in the banana producing area might have stimulated the group to continue with the project.
Meanwhile, she says, the JAS will be making arrangements with the Eastern Banana Estates Limited to collect the banana trunks after the fruit has been harvested, adding that it was not difficult to get raw material.
Mrs. Pullen pointed out that the group produces fibre during their lunch break and whenever they are not working on the farm, where they are cultivating sweet cassava, okras, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and peas. She tells JIS News that the input for the project was minimal and did not require much manual power.
“The project does not require any large amount of money. It needs two machetes, a piece of board and that’s it. So it was easy to start. Any project that is coming on board that we want people to gravitate to, must be such that the input is minimal,” she points out.
Team Leader for Innovative Industry at the JBDC, Colin Porter, tells JIS that he was surprised and impressed by the quick response of the group in supplying the agency with some 22.68 kilograms (50 pounds) of fibre at their first try at making the product.
“Fibre is a very light material, so to get 50 pounds in that short time was very good,” he adds, saying that the members of the group have improved on the techniques in extracting the fibre, resulting in it being produced at a faster rate. “We certainly will be having follow-up workshops with them to take them to the next level, where they can use the fibre to make products themselves,” he states.
According to him, the group has become part of a network of fibre producers being created by the JBDC.
He informs JIS News that the JBDC and craft makers have been using the fibre to produce items, which are being marketed through Things Jamaican shops, “to test the market.”
“Based on the samples that we have made and the places we have displayed them, the response has been great and most persons who have seen the products want to know when they can buy it and where they can buy it,” he says. However, he states that JBDC was still experimenting on producing a variety of products.
“Right now we are in the process of doing a proper market research so we can document feedback and to get an idea of the products that people really want out there,” he says further.
Mr. Porter says that the JBDC was also exploring the possibility of purchasing additional fibre extraction machines to assist groups in the paper making process. He observes that the process of making the paper was technologically advanced and required a machine that was “relatively sophisticated and expensive.” “We are in the process of trying to get more equipment for that. It may be a bit early but in conjunction with the Japanese, we are looking at getting a set of equipment that we can set up a pilot factory to do the entire process from pulping of the fibre to making paper,” Mr. Porter says.
In the meantime, he informs that the JBDC has produced a fibre extraction machine and was “fine-tuning it, but we have actually made our own machine and we’re looking at doing a few more,” he adds.
He further discloses that a handicraft expert recruited through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, recently arrived in the island to teach skills in paper handicraft and how to create items from paper. In addition, he says, local artists and graduates of the Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts are working on developing products from the fibre. ” We hope that by the end of 2004 going into 2005, we would have trained enough people in making paper and have them establish businesses themselves, where they can independently make paper and products as well and supply both the local and export markets,” Mr. Porter says.

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