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Charles wants to take coffee industry higher with greater investment in R&D

Published:Wednesday | March 15, 2023 | 1:22 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Fitzroy Mais (second left), farmer of Content Gap in St Andrew, shares a sample of strawberries grown on his farm with (from left) Tourism Minister Edmond Bartlett and Winston Simpson, acting CEO of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), whil
Fitzroy Mais (second left), farmer of Content Gap in St Andrew, shares a sample of strawberries grown on his farm with (from left) Tourism Minister Edmond Bartlett and Winston Simpson, acting CEO of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), while Robert Tulloch, land management officer of RADA, looks on. The occasion was the Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Festival Farmers Trade Day at the University of Technology, Jamaica, on Tuesday.
Hervin Willis (left), senior director of coffee at Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), shows coffee beans to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett (right) and Winston Simpson (second left), acting CEO of RADA, while administrative ass
Hervin Willis (left), senior director of coffee at Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), shows coffee beans to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett (right) and Winston Simpson (second left), acting CEO of RADA, while administrative assistant Carline Wint-Mattison (third left) and Pamela Hutchinson, acting corporate secretary at JACRA, look on.
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While expressing high hopes for the local coffee industry, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr has said that if adequate research is not conducted and investment increased to improve and protect the sector, international markets could surpass Jamaica.

He, however, noted that the ministry was working towards solving these issues.

“My vision for coffee is that we will have an energised industry, where our farmers can feel comfortable with the price, where we can have better operation on the ground so you have more production from the one acre, where we are able to meet the demand that they have for our coffee across the world, and where we can expand the range of coffee products,” he said.

Charles was speaking at the Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Festival Farmers Trade Day on Tuesday at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

He stated that despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine-Russia war, and the ongoing issues of crime such as praedial larceny, the sector was “moving up in increments”.

He detailed that 251,296 boxes of coffee were produced in 2022, of which 239, 885 boxes were Blue Mountain coffee and the remaining being High Mountain coffee.

This, he said, represented a 5.1 per cent increase in production in comparison to 2021. He disclosed that it has been projected that the crop will produce 264,900 boxes this year, of which 251,000 will be from the Blue Mountain, adding that Jamaica’s coffee export earning stood at US$17 million.

Noting that coffee, second to water, is the most consumed beverage in the world, Charles expressed commitment to the farmers that he would continue to offer assistance as they continue to work to put “Jamaica on top”.

“We couldn’t do it without you, and I know that you need the support, and so I’m gonna make sure to put the fire in the wire, and make sure that who fi give you, give you the support. My job is to represent the farmers of this country and that’s what I’m here to do,” he said.

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED

Charles, however, noted that there is need for more research in the sector and for an improvement of the farming framework, with attention to the diversification the crop.

“Farmers, I want you to understand. It is important that as we grow coffee, to recognise the vulnerabilities to coffee and one of those vulnerabilities is the pests that can damage our crop and mash up the investment that you made but we have to do the necessary research and development (R&D) to protect you and to protect your investment,” he said.

Charles stated that the ministry was currently trying to determine if any local variety has the cup profile closely aligned to the arabica typica coffee, research which has been ongoing for about three years which has involved collecting data for analysis.

“We believe that this is going to help us to develop new and improved coffee varieties that are better suited to our unique environment and market demands,” he said.

Peter Thompson, director general of the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), expressed that among the various challenges of the industry was the ageing population of farmers and coffee trees, adding that some trees stood tall for over 30 to 40 years.

“We need to have replacement to ensure that we have continuity of the production of coffee,” he said, noting that it was time for “a massive” replanting exercise.

Thompson further stated that the older farmers needed to target and encourage the youth to participate in coffee farming.

The Farmer Trade Day, which was jointly hosted by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and JACRA, presented was an opportunity to share best practices with scores of farmers.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett asserted that tourism could not exist without agriculture. He stated that of all the tourism partners across the world that enabled travel, agriculturalists were at the heart of the business and seen as one of the most important players.

“Eighty per cent of the reason that people travel is to consume food ... and 42 per cent of the spending of tourist ... is on food and food-related matters,” he said.

“So, we want to encourage farmers to produce, produce, produce,” Bartlett said, adding that the demand for local goods from farmers has increased.

The Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Festival is to be held on March 25 in the hills of Newcastle, St Catherine.

asha.wilks@gleanerjm.com