$1-b fund proposal for coffee, cocoa industries

WITH Jamaica's coffee and cocoa production on a downward trajectory, the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) and the Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association (JCEA) are making an appeal to the Government of Jamaica for $1 billion to fund a programme aimed at “resuscitating” and supporting the industries.

Peter Thompson, director general of JACRA, told the Jamaica Observer, “For the last two decades we have seen declines in the production of the two commodities. What we have seen is scant regard for these two sectors and yet they are strong brands and we have good global demand for these products, which could be termed as specialty brands.”

According to Thompson, coffee production fell from a high of 530,000 boxes in 2004 to a low of 224,000 boxes at the beginning of 2022, representing a 58 per cent decline in coffee. On the other hand, supply of cocoa has seen an 88 per cent decline, moving from 93,000 boxes in 2001 to 10,700 boxes in 2022.

He added that currently the coffee industry is only fulfilling 64 per cent of market demand, with estimated lost income reaching US$15 million per annum.

At present, Jamaica's exports comprise a mix of 70 per cent to Japan, 20 per cent to the US, and 10 per cent to the rest of the world.

“…currently we have a market demand for approximately 350,000 boxes per annum for Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, and for Jamaica High Mountain coffee we have about 28,000 boxes per annum,” he explained.

To this end, he said a programme of the nature that the JACRA and the JCEA are proposing would position the industries to address their respective challenges and fulfil the demand for the commodities. Among the challenges both industries face are aging farms, lack of continuous replanting, low or unstable pricing, and access to finance including credit.

So far, JACRA said it has formed a coffee working group and a cocoa working group tasked with identifying issues and gathering data on the performance of both industries. In addition, they have developed a crop restoration and expansion programme, which was submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture for support, and by extension the Ministry of Finance.

“So we have been brainstorming and we have looked at a comprehensive plan, focused on some key issues. The board of JACRA has bought into the programme to work along with the staff and stakeholders to address some of these issues,” Thompson told the Business Observer.

He added: “For coffee, we are looking in the region of about $1.17 billion. That has been broken out into $884.3 million between JACRA and the ministry of agriculture. And for the farmer's organisations we are looking at $104 million when we value their contribution the project.”

At the same time, JACRA has estimated that the cocoa industry will need a total of $752 million.

Overall, the restoration programme will be targeting some 2,500 farmers for capacity building — training in good agricultural best practices — as well as the distribution of inputs, including fertilisers, seedlings, chemicals, and rat bait.

“We have been looking to see how we can assess farmers in terms of capacity building. … We have just started a dialogue with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to look at soil nutrient capacity rebuilding. So, sooner or later we will be engaging IICA to work with some consultants to see if we address soil fertility and erosion, especially in coffee-growing regions, as well as cocoa,” Thompson explained.

With regard to the challenge of aging farmers, the JACRA head said a component of the proposed programme would target both youth and women, which are classified as marginal groups in agriculture. In this regard, Thompson said the authority has identified lands in the Blue Mountains which the Government could lease to young people, aged 18 to 35, and provide a moratorium on the properties to facilitate the start-up of production.

While he noted that the terrain of the Blue Mountains presented its own challenges, he argued that making the coffee and cocoa industries attractive and lucrative would overcome that deterrent for young people entering that space. However, in considering young candidates for the programme, Thompson said should have an interest and must already be engaged in cultivation.

“I understand that some [lands] may be available, given back by Wallenford Coffee Company, but I have to verify that. If that is the case, then we are recommending to the agencies responsible for lands to look at redistributing these lands to youths who demonstrate the ability and interest in the growing of coffee in those regions,” he continued.

The JACRA head said that he would also reach out to international donor agencies and depend on local stakeholders such as the JCEA for financial support.

For his part, JCEA President Norman Grant said he has sent a letter to newly minted Minister of Agriculture Pearnel Charles Jr for his support of the programme. In the letter shared with the Business Observer, Grant requested a meeting “at your earliest convenience to discuss the matter” virtually or face-to-face.

In a message he wrote for Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Day, observed on January 9, 2022, Grant said the proposed programme would contribute an increase in revenue from US$25 million per annum to US$50 million with an increment of five per cent growth over 10 years.

Peter Thompson, director general, Jamaica AgriculturalCommodities Regulatory Authority
President of the Jamaica Coffee Exporters AssociationNorman Grant
BY JOSIMAR SCOTT Senior reporter josimars@jamaicaobserver.com

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