JACRA says no to sub-licensing for coffee
JACRA advises that small farmers should organise themselves into groups that can fulfill the requirements for licensing. (Photo: narvikk)

The Jamaica Agricultural Regulatory Authority (JACRA) has responded to claims by the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association that JACRA's licensing regime is prejudicial against small farmers with the statement that the body is protecting the quality of coffee sold.

The regulator charges between $200,000 and US$2000 annually for coffee dealers, roasters, exporters/traders and users of the Blue Mountain Coffee (BMC) trademark. JACRA indicates that the fees relate to industry participants with the ability to produce quality roast in large quantities. To do otherwise, it was said, would result in a "regulatory nightmare".

However, the rates charged for roasting trading and exporting, the association of coffee farmers told the Jamaica Observer, are preventing many members from improving earnings from value-added activity coming from their own produce.

David Salmon, president of the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association, told the Business Observer, "The JACRA issue concerns how they relate to small farmers, in terms of getting information to us in a timely way and the licensing regime. A farmer can be locked up for selling his own coffee because he does not have a licence. These are colonial laws. You need a licence if coffee must be sold. A farmer who takes his coffee to the Coronation Market to sell can be locked up.

"You need a licence to roast coffee. You need a licence to sell it abroad. You have to produce 6,000 boxes before you can get an export licence. An export licence costs US$2,000 per year." All of this, he said, places small producers at a disadvantage.

However, Hervin Willis, the director of coffee at JACRA and also a member of the standards board at the authority told the Business Observer, "A coffee grower will be licensed to process, roast and sell coffee if he/she produces or has the potential to produce 6,000 boxes of coffee per annum. It is expected that the licensee would have requisite competence within his/her organisation to carry out all or some of the activities to produce a final product of the highest quality and remain profitable."

He said that permitting smaller operations is unlikely to promote product quality. "Splintering will result in a high level of inconsistency in the quality of the coffee. The industry is structured with a system of licensing and quality assurance services which ensure that the coffee for the marketplace is of excellent quality."

Willis suggests that what small farmers should do is to come together to pursue new value added projects. He told the Business Observer, "Currently small farmers are encouraged to organise themselves into groups that can fulfill the requirements for licensing to process, roast and sell their coffee. Going this route, the licence fees can be paid by each of the group members."

Willis noted, "The licensing fees which were approved by Parliament and the Senate of Jamaica are standardised for respective licences. It should be noted that although JACRA collects the fees it also facilitates those who were unable to pay all the monies upfront by accommodating a scheduled payment system."

The director of coffee asserted, "Coffee is a regulated product hence persons selling their own coffee [as green beans or roasted coffee] need authorisation to do so. With this authorisation [being licensed] their product would be quality assessed from time to time to ensure that the coffee is of acceptable standard. Without a licence the farmer should sell his cherry coffee or green beans to a licensed dealer/processor."

Willis concluded, "JACRA is not keen on sub-licensing arrangements in these situations and would rather license the entity as a means of brand protection with arranged monitoring. There will be a greater level of uncertainty when the monitoring and oversight is being done by the sub-licensors."

Addressing the desire of many small producers to export what they grow, Willis advised, "This might be facilitated if farmers form groups/cooperatives and the coffee is sold as the groups/cooperative's coffee. It simply would be a nightmare trying to monitor, certify and provide quality assurance services to a large group of individual farmers."

Avia Collinder

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