Speech delivered by The Hon. Roger Clarke, Minister of Agriculture And Fisheries

Signing of contract between the All Island Banana Growers’ Association (AIBGA) and the European Union (EU)

May 02, 2012
Banana Board Conference Room


I am happy to be here this afternoon at the signing of the grant contract between the All Island Banana Growers’ Association (AIBGA) and the European Union, (EU), as it signals the government’s commitment and that of our partner the EU, to improve efficiencies within the sector.

We thank the EU for their generosity and support over the years through the EU Banana Support Programme, and encourage them to give and give until we refuse to accept. We are indeed grateful!

Jamaica’s banana industry has had a rich history, and was in the recent past, one of our major foreign exchange earners, as the fruit was predominantly exported to Europe. However, as the modus operandi of international trade began to change, with the removal of preferential access by African Caribbean and Pacific, (ACP) countries, so too did the fortunes of our industry, as prices plummetted and the sector was dealt serious blows with natural disasters (hurricanes) one after the other.

Banana remains one of the most popular fruits in Jamaica, where it is widely utilized in both its green and ripened state and is the third most popular source for starch after rice and flour.

The effect of this was the crippling of the export trade.  The demise of the export trade has presented us with some opportunities to focus on the domestic market and also to engage the sector in exploring other possibilities of value added products.

Banana remains one of the most popular fruits in Jamaica, where it is widely utilized in both its green and ripened state and is the third most popular source for starch after rice and flour. A recent survey indicates that 98% of Jamaicans eat banana regularly and 30% of those do not purchase the product.

In recent times, it has become even more popular as a snack. Protecting the crop is therefore vital to food security as despite its challenges; the local banana trade still provides employment for in excess of 6,000 people. It must be noted that a few years ago, we had up to 10,000 people engaged in banana cultivation, so we know the sector holds much possibility to increase that figure significantly.

Indeed, while we are not yet where we want to be, with production marginally below 90,000 tonnes as at 2010, an increase of 17.5% over 2009, I believe we could describe this as a fresh start. The production figures are encouraging and overtime, I expect us to grow from strength to strength.

It is very important that the AIBGA re-organises its operations and assist in mobilizing its members as we will have to deal squarely with the matter of the importation of banana chips, which has doubled from us$3.4 million in 2010 to us$8.7 million in 2011.  With more farmers engaged in the process and with increased production, we hope to put a significant dent in the importation of banana and plantain chips and other value added products into Jamaica.

The EU Banana Support Programme plays a critical role in promoting sustainable development in traditional banana growing areas, and so today’s contract signing is timely as it targets the organisational component of the industry which fits neatly into the overall plans to transition into the banana accompanying measures.

I am indeed excited about the grant of 180, 000 Euros that is to be handed over this afternoon to the AIBGA for institutional strengthening and capacity building. This will no doubt help the over 1.400 members of the organization.

The key components of this contract include but are not limited to:

- Capacity building of the association’s district branches and branches

- Rehabilitation of existing infrastructure

- Construction and installation of one new ripening facility, and

- Hiring a marketing manager to commence implementation of a marketing plan.

All of this we hope to achieve in the short term over the next 12 months. We are confident that the goals are realistic and therefore can be achieved.

We wish the AIBGA all the best in its endeavours to reposition itself and to re-take its rightful position in the industry. Once again, I thank the EU for their contribution and look forward to our continued collaboration.