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Jamaica: Disease resistant bananas boost local production

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has unveiled new varieties of disease resistant and high yielding bananas and plantains, which are expected to increase cost efficiency for local growers, by around 30%.

The varieties, which come under the name "Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA) are reputed to be resistant to black sigatoka as well as having a lower production cost and 25% higher yields.

Portfolio minister Roger Clarke said the promotion of the new crops is part of the Ministry's efforts to revitalise and resuscitate the local banana sector. He was speaking at Banana Day at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education in Portland last week.

The Minister also opened and toured the new FHIA nursery and the demonstration plots on the campus where farmers will be able to purchase the new varieties.

Two similar nurseries have also been opened at the Orange River Agricultural Station in St Mary and Knockalva Agricultural School in Hanover. There are also seven demonstration plots where farmers will be able to see the potential and learn more about the growing of the plants.

Clarke said the establishment of the three nursery facilities has been made possible through a grant of from the European Union to the Banana Board under the Banana Resuscitation Loan programme.

The Minister argued that the 30 per cent expected increase in cost efficiency that the crop is likely to yield, "is exactly what the industry will need to be able to supply (banana) chip factories and other agri-businesses with fruits to extend the value chain and build a strong sustainable domestic market."

He expressed concern over the fact that Jamaica has been importing growing numbers of banana chips. In 2010, the country imported banana chips valued at US$3.7 million, while in 2011, this figure more than doubled to US$8.4 million.

"This must not happen. This is a travesty, especially as this signals that we are eating more and more chips, but from foreign farmers, while our local farmers are struggling to eke out a decent living," he said.

"We must be able to produce all the bananas we need and this programme is to lead us in that direction," the Minister added.

He said, too, that with the new banana variety, the vision of increasing production to levels of 120,000 tonnes by the year 2020 is achievable.

The first phase of the programme was expected to be completed by June this year, but this now looks like being put back six months, though this will not require additional funds the minister asserts.

In the meantime, Representative of the EU, Charge d'Affaires, Helen Jenkinson, said that over the years, the European Union Banana Support Programme (EUBSP) has shifted its focus more towards the economic diversification of banana dependent areas and mitigating the negative impact of the downturn of the industry.

She noted that the recently launched programme is expected to benefit more than 1,400 banana and plantain farmers as well as agri-businesses.

Source: www.jamaicaobserver.com

Publication date: 4/11/2012


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