BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
JAMAICA is failing to meet the current demand for ackees in the United States despite a deliberate effort by several St Thomas residents to plant more trees.
This is according to Chairman of Stanmark Processors Company Limited, Canute Saddler.
Ackee, which takes three-and-a-half years to mature and bears twice per year, is said to be a major source of income in this underdeveloped parish, with some residences having up to 15 trees.
"People in St Thomas rely on ackee for a living to pay for everything from school fees down to food," Saddler said.
A crop which does well in any climatic conditions, Saddler said it does not take much to maintain.
"Even if hurricane destroys the trees they grow back quickly," he told the Jamaica Observer North East.
Stanmark purchases ackees from a middle man who travels throughout St Thomas as well as to several other parishes to source them.
The factory, which houses its operation, is said to be one of the oldest agro-processing factories in the parish, and is one of 10 such facilities in Jamaica which can export canned ackees to the United States given the strict standards which apply.
Saddler, who runs the company with his wife Michelle and daughter Shona since buying it from the previous owners in 1991, said he was attracted to the processing business when he worked as a food distributor in the United States. It was then that he saw first-hand the difficulties of getting ackees into that market because of the presence of the toxic substance hypoglycin.
"Canned ackees used to be smuggled in through Canada and so with the big demand the price was high," he said, explaining that in the 80s one tin used to be sold for as much as US$10, compared to the approximately US$7 that it is now sold for.
Over the years, Saddler said several steps were taken to have the ban on exporting ackee to the US lifted and to hurdle the guidelines acceptable to the Food and Drug Administration.
It wasn't until 2000 when a study was done and a pilot company established that the market for the exportation of the fruit to the US was reopened and since then, Jamaica has been earning significant foreign exchange from the produce.
However the country has not been able to meet the demand.
"I don't have enough ackees to keep in storage so when the crop is finished I just have to go on to processing other things," Saddler said.
He noted, however, that he is hoping to address this shortfall by farming some 300 acres of the fruit himself.