Billion-dollar CREP programme to boost coffee production
The long-standing issues that have plagued coffee farmers across Jamaica have finally received the attention of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries after years of lobby from the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulation Authority and the Jamaica Coffee Exporters’ Association, and will be addressed in the upcoming budget cycle.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green, speaking at the launch of the Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Festival at Devon House in St Andrew on Tuesday, announced the implementation of the Crop Restoration and Establishment Programme, which is set to begin in the upcoming financial year and will benefit over 5,000 coffee farmers across Jamaica while boosting production and export of the commodity.
“We do know that we are definitely not at the place where we want to be and the production number that we want to see. We do recognise that like several other sectors and industries in agriculture, we are affected by harsher climatic conditions, we do see aging farming populations, we do see the onset of pests and diseases and increase costs in agriculture inputs, which does make the farming enterprise a lot more challenging,” he told the gathering.
“But we are not deterred by that and, in fact, we are redoubling our efforts to craft what we call ‘A new face of food’ that focuses on food security agro-business development, climate-smart technology and, of course, export expansion, and we are going to be ensuring that our coffee farmers are prioritised,” Green continued.
Aimed at the rejuvenating and rebuilding the coffee sector, CREP will involve the strengthening and establishment of coffee nurseries as well as the replanting of coffee plants over a five-year period for the production of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain product and the High Mountain variety. Located at 910 metres or 3,000 feet high, the Blue Mountain coffee region encompasses between 80 and 90 districts across the parishes of St Andrew, St Thomas, and Portland. High Mountain coffee refers to beans produced outside the Blue Mountain region and mainly consists of coffee from Manchester.
With a view to boost productivity and a target of producing 450,000 boxes per year, CREP, Green said, aims to “ultimately ensure that farmers get a fair price for the commodity” and will require an “all-hands-on deck” approach.
“We did go through a process years ago. I had asked the JACRA team to bring together the stakeholders and to look some of the major challenges facing our coffee sector and to craft a plan that will address those challenges and that is what CREP is about. It’s about looking at some of the challenges in relation to the age of the crops that we have out in the field, the age of our farmers, input costs and how we treat with infrastructure,” he told Jamaica Observer following the launch of the annual festival.
“Another component of the CREP has to do with training our farmers and ensuring that they’re using the best methodologies to be more productive. So it’s really about enhancing farmer productivity to raise our production levels. And then the other element has to do with how we attract new investor, how we attract young farmers and how we focus on value addition to get more from their coffee plants,” Green added.
Production of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee in the 2022/23 crop season increased by 17 per cent when compared to 2021/22 season, moving from 240,000 boxes to over 285,000 boxes. This, however, fell short of a projection of 300,000 boxes according to Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Coffee Growers’ Association, who said that production was curtailed by earthquakes and extreme weather conditions, resulting in a loss of “50,000 boxes [or] over 25 per cent of the crop valuing $480m, almost half of $1b at farm gate prices”.
Grant, who is also the CEO and managing director of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory — producers of the True Brew, Wallenford and Jablum brands — welcomed Green’s announcement of the CREP initiative.
“We want to applaud the minister [of agriculture and fisheries] for this strategic move to implement the CREP [initiative], which is a billion dollars over five years, to move our production from 240,000 boxes to 450,000 boxes within five years and to move our productivity from 30 boxes per acre to 90 boxes per acre. We think that this intervention can move the earnings from export in coffee from US$25 to incrementally US$100 million per annum, and it must be noted that coffee export earnings have increased over the last six years, moving from $17 million to somewhere in the region of US$24.5 million,” he told Business Observer.
He also hailed the minister call to address the road network in the Blue Mountain coffee range, noting that the deplorable condition of the roads “adds cost to production, sales, and just to operate.
“And I was very excited to hear the minister indicate that the improvement of our rural road networks within the Blue Mountain area is something that is on the card. We [the JCEA] have called for it; we have called for the long-term development and maintenance of roads…so kudos to our minister. He’s doing a good job. We are working together — the JCEA, JACRA and our farmers. We are working to rebuild the rural areas and ensure that we are developing opportunities for our coffee farmers,” he continued.
During his speech, Minister Green said it would take a collaborative effort with his fellow ministers with responsibility for tourism and industry, investment and commerce to address roads.
“It will take a holistic lobby effort for us to get a comprehensive programme to treat with the road network in the Blue Mountain range. This will be outside of the regular farm road allocation, and we all have to come together and craft a specific programme because we know the terrain of the area…[which] makes our coffee so good, but if we’re not able to get to the farms, we would not be able to get the most precious coffee in the world,” he stated.
In terms of the budget for the programme, the agriculture minister shared that the implementation over the five years will be dependent on the allocation from the finance ministry.
“We are now in the process of going to the Ministry of Finance [and Public Service] to indicate to them that this is programme and it’s for five years. Ultimately we’re looking for a billion dollars over the period. How much we will get this financial year is left to be seen, so that is the discussion we’re having now with the Ministry of Finance for the new budget cycle and when I make my sectoral presentation I will outline what is the budget for this year,” he added.
Green also noted that he’s counting on leveraging private sector support for the programme, noting that private entities play a fundamental role, and that the Ministry of Agriculture will be engaging the Inter-American Institute of Cooperation on Agriculture for technical support.
General manager of Salada Group Tamii Brown also welcomed the new initiative, especially as demand now outstrip supplies. However, she expressed that she doesn’t anticipate any immediate effects considering that coffee plants take five years to mature.
“So we are still very much challenged in terms of getting supplies, especially as industry grows and more persons get involved in the value chain and access to quality Jamaican coffee still remains pressed. But we’re happy, we see some light on the horizons — very happy with the moves the ministry is making to right-size this ship,” she stated.