Business

Another blow to local banana chips

Sandy leaves snack makers in need of raw material

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 07, 2012    

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HURRICANE Sandy dealt a huge blow to the Jamaican banana chips industry just as millions of dollars were being invested into upgrading the lucrative sector.

The category one hurricane flattened banana farms in eastern parishes last month, with the island's largest farmer Jamaica Producers (JP) reporting that up to 90 per cent of the crop had been destroyed. JP controls some 90 per cent of the island's banana production and is also the maker of St Mary's banana chips through its Tropical Foods subsidiary.

The damage inflicted by Sandy came just four months after Government announced a multimillion-dollar plan to boost the banana chips industry and cut down on related imports, which was worth US$8.4-million in 2011, up from US $3.7 million in 2010.

JP Managing Director Jeffrey Hall stated that there will be no immediate shortage of snacks, but it is unclear how much long the company's supply will last.

But SOS Foods, manufacturer of the Nicies brand of banana chips, said it currently faces an inventory shortage.

"We don't have enough in stock," said SOS Company Secretary Jennifer Christian. "The bananas that we are getting, I don't know how long it will last for."

SOS receives its bananas primarily from Portland, one of the worst hit parishes by Sandy and where a member of parliament wants declared a national disaster zone.

The fallout from Sandy may be a case of deja-vu for St Mary-based Native Food Packers, producer of Chippies banana chips.

Native Food, which refused to be interviewed for this article, saw its flagship operation come to a virtual standstill following the decimation of banana crops in successive storms from 2004 to 2007.

Native Food had been unable to produce banana chips at full capacity after the devastation of the island's banana industry by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The company had resumed producing at around 75 per cent of capacity, but was dealt a huge blow in August 2007 when the outer bands of Hurricane Dean slammed the island and again destroyed banana crops. It was subsequently forced to temporarily halt business and lay off some of its 150 employees, but had now been back to producing banana chips at a high level.

Government this week ruled out the possibility of importing bananas despite the expected shortage brought on by Sandy. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Donovan Stanberry said Jamaica would be at risk of importing diseases that could infect the local banana crop if the fruit were to be imported at this time.

Under Government's plan to drive the industry, 300 acres (121 hectares) of banana trees were to be resuscitated to produce banana chips, with the Development Bank of Jamaica awarding nearly $570,000 in loans to banana farmers under a public-private partnership. The European Union also allocated $5.9 million for the island's banana industry.

Jamaica produced nearly 90,000 tons (82,000 metric tons) of bananas and plantains in 2010, a nearly 18 per cent increase from the previous year, though well below the island's peak production in earlier years.

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