CHRISTIANA, Manchester — Ginger is among the priority crops at the Christiana Potato Growers Co-operative tissue culture lab, and with good reason — the Jamaican-grown product is sought-after in international markets, some of which are reportedly willing to pay double what the island spends to import inferior varieties.
The root, according to general manager at the Co-op Alvin Murray, has been central to agriculture in north-east Manchester for hundreds of years, and though its growth has been stymied in recent times, it now has the potential for resurgence.
"Ginger has an (over) 400-year history in this area. The Spaniards brought it to the neighbouring parish of St Ann and it came over into Manchester, where the rainfall was a little bit better and the soil held more moisture," he said.
Murray said, however, that the growth of ginger has been seriously affected by disease in the last 20 years, the most common of which was the rhizome rot. Consequently, much of the crop is now imported.
"It is frightening what is happening. When you imagine that Jamaica at one stage was the third-largest producer of ginger in the world... Jamaican ginger is the standard by which other ginger in the world is judged up to today, [yet] we are now importing 70 per cent of every ounce of ginger we use in this country," he said.
The Christiana Co-op head said Japan is one of the markets willing to pay top dollar for the root, but only about 10 per cent of demand can be met by Jamaican producers.
In former top-ginger-producing areas such as Alston, Moravia and Silent Hill — all within five miles of Christiana — Murray said that there was hardly any ginger being grown now.
"Having solved the Irish potato problem, we want to move to ginger. All the crops that we are concentrating on are crops that the farmers are planting," said Murray.
He said that roughly 35,000 pieces of disease-free ginger planting materials were delivered to select members of the Co-op and they are now growing.
"The reports so far have been mainly good," said Murray, who added that more farmers should be able to get assistance for the next crop, in February or March next year.
The two varieties of ginger that the Co-op now focuses on growing are the Jamaica blue and Jamaica yellow which are said to be generally more tolerant to diseases.
Murray said the timing and the procedure used to cultivate ginger are major factors for the success of the yield and presently, organisations such as the Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute, the Scientific Research Council and Bodles Research Station are working with the Co-op to ensure success in the production of crops, including ginger.
Funding, however, will be crucial.
"If we can get the necessary funding to support that (growing ginger) throughout, it will be a new day in this area," said Murray.