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Pig farmers in trouble

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 06, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Pressed to the wall by "un-competitively" low returns for pork, Jamaica's pig farmers are gearing up for concerted action to force a price increase.

"We have had consultations and we believe we have to insist on an across-the-board price increase of at least five per cent," Delroy Manya, president of the 12-year-old Jamaica Pig Farmers Association, told the Jamaica Observer.

"We can't continue like this," Manya declared, "prices to pig farmers have actually declined or remained static, while input costs including feed, labour and utilities including water have gone up by over 18 per cent on average over the last 18 months," he said.

Paradoxically, pig farmers agree that a glut in pork production which lasted for over two years, has actually ended.

Logically, they say, there should by now be a price increase to producers at the farm gate, as excess supplies of meat disappear.

One highly respected St Elizabeth farmer who declined to be named told the Sunday Observer of his own suspicions of a collusion involving very large producers and processors to keep prices artificially low and force smaller producers out of business.

In his case, he said, the price paid to him at the farm gate has actually dropped over the last two years even as the price of feed -- spurred by the rapid devaluation of the Jamaica dollar -- has surged. He claims that he is now cutting back production because of fear he may not be able to pay his bills.

"Two years ago, the gentleman who buys pork from me was paying $110 per pound live weight. Today he is paying $100 and he says he can't go any higher," he said. He knew instances of farmers receiving as low as $86 per pound, live weight, the farmer said.

The situation is a far cry from a decade ago when Jamaica's under-developed pig industry was in rapid acceleration mode, with new producers joining up in droves.

Manya recalls that back in 2002 when the pig farmers association was launched "the country was importing 85 per cent of pork processed in Jamaica".

The local industry, backed by a deliberate government policy of import reduction, grew so rapidly that by 2007, imports of prime pork cuts had dropped by 90 per cent and by 2009 the local industry was self-sufficient in prime cuts.

Today, Manya said, imports of pig parts are restricted to bellies used in the bacon sector, tails, as well as trimmings in the sausage industry.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Jamaica's registered pig sector produced just under 9.5 million kilograms of pork in 2012 up from just over 7.1 kilograms in 2011. In 2012 dress cuts produced locally amounted to 7.9 million kilos while edible offals were quantified at 1.582 million kilos, up from 5.925 million kilos of dress cuts and 1.185 million kilos in edible offals the previous year.

A World Bank-funded study conducted on behalf of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) by local firm Trevor Hamilton and Associates, which was published last year, placed the value of Jamaica's pork industry at $6.4 billion.

While a price increase is seen as crucial to keeping the industry alive in the short term, Manya said that there must be a long-term production plan to include exports of value-added products not least of which is the world-famous Jamaica jerk pork -- suitably packaged.

"To really ... prevent this (crisis) from happening in the future we have to really redesign the structure of our industry... we need to have all the players sitting around a table," Manya told a seminar hosted by Hi-Pro Farm Suppliers, a division of Jamaica Broilers, in late February at St John Bosco Conference Hall in Hatfield just outside Mandeville.

He got no argument from other stakeholders including president and CEO of Jamaica Broilers Christopher Levy who spoke of the need to keep the pig sector viable.

"We all know that the industry needs a clear structure and a clear development path. Nobody benefits from a feast and famine industry where sometimes you making money and another time you burning cash," said Levy.

Manya told the Sunday Observer of his own desire for "structured" contractual arrangements between producers and pork processors, which he feels could help to prevent or at least minimise gluts and shortages.

And at the Hi-Pro-hosted seminar at St John Bosco, Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke spoke of his own willingness to sit with pig producers to "chart the way forward".

Crucially, said Clarke, there must be a commitment to "research, development and application of science and technology in all aspects of pork production" to eliminate imports of by-products such as bacon.

The minister urged the development of creative ways to get Jamaicans to eat more pork as well as to diversify into the export market.

Crucial to exports, most feasibly to the CARICOM market and in particular Trinidad and Tobago, is the maintenance of production standards and the long-talked about development of "traceability systems" from the 'farm to the fork' as part of the country's food safety programme. As regards the pork industry, Clarke said that his ministry was "designing a methodology for pig identification".

And even as he emphasised the importance of achieving higher standards for local production, Clarke -- ever mindful of Jamaica's multi-billion food import bill -- said that similar standards must apply to products coming from elsewhere.

"We are also making sure that whatever comes into this country must live up to the same standard. It can't be a one-way street," he said.

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