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Coconut board gets provisional green light on commercial plan

Published:Monday | May 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder/Business Reporter
Christopher Gentles, chairman of the Coconut Industry Board

With the announcement by Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries Audley Shaw announcement last weekend that he has provisionally approved the commercial development plan for coconut, chairman of the commodity board, Christopher Gentles, is now saying the agency is better positioned to court investors.

"What the minister has said represents a shifting of gears that will allow us to go into aggressive execution mode," Gentles told the Financial Gleaner on Monday.

The board pitched its $3-billion plan - developed with the help of consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers - to the minister last month, much of which is dependent on the engagement of private partners.

Proposed ventures include coconut orchards, a green coconut water packaging plant, production of virgin coconut oil, and a cocoa fermentary.

Gentles said that in two meetings between the Coconut Industry Board and Shaw in April, Shaw approved the plan with two caveats - revise the commercial plan to indicate the role that small farmers would have in it; and lay out the commodity board's role in development support.

The commodity board is now expected to create a company to execute its commercial plan.

"The minister clarified and confirmed his support for our project with two critical modifications," said Gentles.

"There will be a bifurcation of roles - one will be the development of a special-purpose vehicle for the development of the industry; the other will be the Coconut Industry Board, which will ensure that the farmers of Jamaica - small medium and large - get sustained support and access to market," he said.

This prospective coconut development company would initially have had only one shareholder, the Coconut Board. But Gentles now says the company could include small farmers, two or three larger growers and a number of others being courted.

At the April meetings, Shaw also approved plans for the coconut board to acquire the 1,028-acre Water Valley Farm in St Mary, 700-acre Unity Valley farm also in St Mary and, subject to Cabinet approval, the Richmond Cocoa Fermentary, also in that parish.

"The board, through these acquisitions and along with their existing properties, will therefore be demonstrating, on a mother/satellite farm basis, best practices in the growing of coconuts, intercropped with cocoa and banana, along with the processing of coconut water and other coconut products," Shaw said at a meeting of coconut growers at the weekend.

The Richmond fermentary is already part of a divestment package for the commercial assets of the Cocoa Industry Board, which suggests that the privatisation programme for the cocoa assets would have to be revised, were Cabinet to say yes to the Coconut Board's plan.

Gentles said the Coconut Board's revised commercial plan should be ready in two months, at which point the agency would move ahead with the acquisitions.

Shaw also announced at the weekend that the coconut board would remain a statutory agency for now.

Permanent Secretary Donovan Stanberry further explained on Tuesday that the decision carried no legislative implications as the current Coconut Industry Board Act had not been repealed.

Shaw also said at the weekend that the hiving off of the regulatory functions of the Coconut Board to the newly created Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority would not be disrupted.

The first phase of the Coconut Board's commercial plan includes the build out of 3,800 acres of commercial orchards and 4,000 acres of seedbed nurseries to supply one million seedlings per year.