Business

Grant makes big bamboo push

By ALICIA DUNKLEY WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, March 17, 2014    

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As the push towards the establishment of a bamboo industry continues, top officials of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) will be in Jamaica for a two-day conference on bamboo utilisation at the University of the West Indies, Mona, between April 14 and 15 this year.

On Friday, Government Senator Norman Grant, making his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate, said that subsequent to his presentation on the development of the industry in Jamaica earlier this year, interest in the sector has grown.

The senator, in a motion debated and passed by the Upper House then, had called for the strengthening of the Bamboo and Indigenous Materials Advisory Council established by the Bureau of Standards to drive efforts to establish Jamaica as a hub for the production of high-value finished bamboo products.

He also called for the development of a factory that would lead to an established industrial zone for bamboo products here.

According to Grant, Jamaica had an opportunity to share in China's US$15-billion export market. He said that the bamboo industry could help the agriculture sector to make an even greater contribution to the economy through close collaboration with China.

Grant said that the Chinese have met with BIMAC and indicated their full support of the project, and are now willing to train 20 people annually in China, up from two. In addition he said that a sample shipment of bamboo charcoal has been dispatched to Canada that could open export potential earnings of US$12 million.

According to Grant, Jamaica is privy to an available market for six million coffee stirrers made from bamboo immediately, and an established demand to supply four billion coffee stirrers annually.

Senator Grant also said that following discussion with Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams there is now "strong consideration for at least two pilot bamboo factories".

"This agricultural sub-sector is now moving rapidly and I commend the Senate for approving my proposals which has helped to accelerate the development of this industry. Today we have with us the critical players in this emerging industry. There is a need for investors to look to this sector as it linkages with tourism, food,climate change, manufacturing is very clear," he added.

In the meantime, Grant said that the island's coffee industry is "in a state of emergency.

"This sub-sector at its peak has 12,000 farmers and impacts the lives directly of 102,000 rural persons. Our coffee production has declined from close to six million pounds and export sales of US$35 million industry in the 1990s and is now producing two million pounds and export sales of $25 million at the end of 2013," he pointed out.

Senator Grant said that the decline in both Jamaica Blue Mountain and Non-Blue Mountain brands was due to the effect of Coffee Leaf Rust and Coffee Berry Borer diseases which together were estimated to cost the industry income losses of US $10 million over the last two crop years.

He said that due to the recession in 2008-2011, farm gate prices to the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee farmers fell to a low of $2,500 per box and as a result, a number of farmers hd left the coffee growing business.

"As prices to the coffee farmers are going back up and farmers are being paid up until recently $5,000 per box more. I would like to commend the ministry of agriculture for the injection of $8 million to fight these diseases last year," Grant said, adding that the industry has approached the minister again to assist with the funding of another National Disease Eradication Programme.

"The dealers and the CIB have been working with the farmers as well, but I am declaring today that the coffee industry is in a state of emergency. We must fight the Berry Borer and Coffee Leaf Rust; we need a massive resuscitation programme for both Jamaica Blue Mountain and non-Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee," Senator Grant stated.

In the meantime, referring to what he called part of the strategy to re-build the coffee industry, Grant called "for an imposition of a cess on imported coffee which should be placed in a special fund to be used to expand the local coffee industry".

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