Already on the rise, non-traditional crops mount new export platform

BY KARENA BENNETT Busienss reporter

Sunday, July 13, 2014

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LAST year, Jamaica exported more yam than traditional agricultural exports combined.

Even the value of ackees and sauces sold to overseas markets are set to individually surpass coffee export sales shortly.

Non-traditional agricultural exports have enjoyed substantial growth in recent years -- increasing from US$119 million in 2009 to US$153 million last year.

But Donovan Stanberry believes the market for Jamaican produce is far greater than is currently being realised.

"We have discovered that the marketplace can absorb so much more than what we are now exporting," said the permanent secretary of the agriculture ministry.

What's more, food items which used to be classified as 'ethnic' have now gone into the mainstream.

"Now we are having big supermarkets like Walmart (in the US) and Tesco (in the UK) literally having designated shelf spaces for the produce, so we are moving from the territory to the mainstream," he added.

A new export platform, which is to be officially launched in September, is being developed by the agriculture ministry to increase and safeguard the export of Jamaica's non-traditional agricultural produce.

The programme will partly follow the one used in Costa Rica to grow non-traditional exports, such as pineapples, which over the last decade alone has grown from US$160 million, or 17.5 per cent of global trade in 2002 to US$826 million, or 35 per cent of world exports last year.

In Jamaica, the programme aims to turn farmers into food exporters through training in international business practices, marketing and negotiating skills, and participation in trade missions and fairs.

Traditional markets -- Canada, United Kingdom and the eastern coast of the United States -- are being targeted by the export platform, which is to push growth in export of yam, papaya, pumpkin, dasheen, pepper, condiments, and ginger, among others.

Already, a UK-based association of fresh produce importers whose members comprise 700 businesses, from food packers and processors to retailers and distributors, has started to take direct supplies.

Since April, six shipments of local produce have been sent to Fresh Produce Consortium of the United Kingdom.

"Having established that the Jamaican products still have a strong preference in those markets, it is our intent to exploit that along with our strong brand image," said Stanberry.

However, Jamaica has to improve its export practices, at least in terms of consistency, if its products are to secure a spot on mainstream shelves.

The implementation of 10 agro-parks covering over 6,600 acres of land is expected to help lower the cost of production of Jamaican agricultural goods, while improving consistency.

The agriculture ministry also plans to strengthen its presence in North America - possibly by means of a small company, to streamline operations.

The export platform is being carried out under the agriculture ministry's Agricultural Competitiveness Programme (ACP), in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA).

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