My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How Banana Shortage in Jamaica indicates Bananas extinct in Caribbean by 2020

Sunday, April 9, 2017

How Banana Shortage in Jamaica indicates Bananas extinct in Caribbean by 2020

Folks, it’s official; we now have a banana chips shortage in Jamaica.

So says a few select manufacturers of Banana chips in Jamaica as reported in the article “Banana Chips Shortage - Manufacturers Take A Hit As Higher Prices Push Farmers To Tourism”, published Sunday April 9, 2017 by Ryon Jones, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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The banana chips industry is based on using green bananas that did not meet export standards.

However, since 2004 when hurricanes wreaked havoc on the Jamaican Banana sector, farmers have been leaving the Banana Sector altogether as pointed out by David Martin, general manager of JP Tropical Foods, quote: “The country (Jamaica) had seen a series of hurricanes beginning with Ivan in 2004, then there were Dennis and Emily. There were five of them (storms); the last one that took us out of the banana export business was Gustav in 2008”.

Add to that the fact that Banana farmers dislike selling green bananas to banana chip manufactures. They instead prefer to keep them longer and make them ripen to sell to higglers, who pay them twice as much for the same low-quality bananas on the local market. In fact, that sale price triples when they sell bananas to the tourism sector.

Jamaica's banana export market is dwindling, and is now a shadow of itself from its former glory days as pointed out by general manager of the Jamaica Banana Board, Janet Conie, quote:  “We had a large export market in the 1990s and early 2000s when export was in excess of 50,000 tons, sometimes over 70,000 tons, and we were producing the same amount for the domestic market. Now we are not exporting a lot. Last year, we exported 410 tons while our local production was 57,000 tons”.

That’s right folks: 410 tons in 2016 when back in the 1990s and early 2000s, 50,000 to 70,000 tons was the norm.

So what must be done?

Jamaica’s Banana Industry Dilemma – Panama Disease Threatens an already dying Industry

There is a need to increase banana production as pointed out by general manager of the All-Island Banana Growers Association, Donald Elvey, quote: “The real issue is that we need to increase domestic banana production by another 20,000 tons. We are on target to do that, but again, because of the cyclic production, you will find that during the summer months, the farmers have difficulties in selling their banana, so people are averse to further expansion in acreage”.

Their need to be a banana sector geared to supplying banana chip producers specifically, as it has now gotten to the point that Jamaica Producers (JP), manufacturers of St Mary Banana Chips, has been importing banana chips from the Dominican Republic.

There is also a need to develope a breed of banana resistant to Panama Disease (Fusarium Oxysporum) which the UNFAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) says can wipe out Bananas in the Caribbean by the year 2020 as predicted in my MICO Wars blog article entitled “How the Panama Disease can destroy Caribbean Banana Farming by 2020”. 

One of the largest growers of bananas locally, JP (Jamaica Producers), manufacturers of St Mary Banana Chips, established a factory in the Dominican Republic (DR) in 2006 from where it has been importing some of its chips.
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In fact, JP is slowly making the decision to move their banana chip production to the Dominican Republic, to quote David Martin: “We decided we needed two supply options, so we still operate a factory in Annotto Bay, St Mary, and we commissioned a factory in the DR in August 2007. And there have been hurricanes since, as recently as 2012, which flattened the farm here in Jamaica, which we have put back up since then. But when it was flattened the only place we could supply our chips from was the DR factory”.

JP are not alone; Maroon Pride, despite planting their own acreages of banana, still cannot get enough to operate their production facilities for more than three days a week, to quote Manager of Maroon Pride, Robert Chambers: “Right now, we can't operate for five days a week, we operate for two or three days. The production is really low and this is because of the difficulty in sourcing the supply, so we just give thanks that we can still stay afloat”.

A leading banana chips manufacturer in the west, they have to compete with the hotels, whom the few banana farmer that are left prefer to sell their banana.

Chippies, another banana chip brand, is now down to 10% of the market, due to the banana shortage. They can only supply smaller 20ft container worth of the product to their various suppliers, to quote an unnamed company official: “There is a shortage because we are just not getting enough green bananas. We do export a little bit and some of the persons we export to we usually supply them with 40ft containers, but now they have to be taking 20ft containers because we cannot supply. One particular distributor who is on Amazon hasn't received any product for the past month”. 

Jobs are on the line; fewer people are being hired in Chippies' packaging plant, again quoting this unnamed official: “Business has been impacted in a very negative way. We have downsized quite a bit in terms of both factory staff and office staff. We have been doing that for a while because of the whole supply situation. ... So when people leave we don't replace them”.

So urgent action is needed to get the Banana Industry and it periphery industry, the Banana Chip Industry back on its feet. Otherwise we may be facing the extinction of Banana by 2020.

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