Jamaican foods and beverages are renowned globally for their high quality and exotic flavours, endearing the discerning taste buds and palates of many persons who continue to enjoy them.
Cognisant of this and the competitive advantage which Jamaica’s unique foods present in the global marketplace, private and public sector stakeholders and interests have, both individually and collectively, been engaging in activities aimed at enhancing output, thereby establishing and consolidating the presence and prominence of local products.
The latest such undertaking is a $42 million ginger and turmeric project, being spearheaded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through its Export Division, which was launched earlier this year.
The project represents what Portfolio Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, says is the fulfillment of a commitment he made at the start of the year, to identify and earmark some 510 additional acres of arable land for ginger and turmeric cultivation and production.
Speaking at the project’s launch in St. Mary, where he presented a cheque in the sum of $25 million, representing the Ministry’s input, Minister Clarke noted that ginger is among the fastest growing spices globally, while turmeric trade, which recorded increases over a two-year period, between 2006 and 2008, is set to further grow over the “short to medium term."
Noting that Jamaica’s ginger ranks among the best in the world, Mr. Clarke contended that this presents an opportunity for expanded local production of the spice in order to capitalise on the increasing demand.
“Since 2001, global ginger imports have increased from 276,000 tonnes, valued at US$172 million, to 423,000 tonnes valued at US$64 million. Jamaican ginger, which is positioned in niche markets, is estimated to have global demand of about 21,000 tonnes of fresh or 4,200 tonnes of dried ginger, which is less than four per cent of global trade,” he informed.
The Minister advised that the national short-term production target of 21,000 tonnes of fresh ginger requires approximately 3,000 cultivated acres, at an improved yield target of seven tonnes per acre.
“With the local ginger industry characterised by small farmers, this is also an opportunity to double the current average ginger farm-size from 0.25 acre to 0.5 acre, and engage about 6,000 farmers in open field-ginger cultivation. Additionally, this scale of operation would require disease-free ginger planting material of about 2,700 tonnes per year,” he outlined.
Mr. Clarke, however, lamented that despite local and international market opportunities, annual ginger production declined from some 900 tonnes in the 1990s to 298 tonnes in 2008. This, he attributed to the impact of two major plant diseases, bacterial wilt and rhizome rot.
He pointed out that the Ministry’s intervention, particularly over the last three years, has reversed this trend, resulting in output increasing by 63 per cent, from 298 tonnes (dried) in 2008, to 486 tonnes in 2010. “Jamaica is only able to supply 10 per cent of its direct international orders for ginger,” the Minister said.
Mr. Clarke said given the impact of diseases on the industry, the Ministry has been evaluating the production of disease-free ginger planting material, using a combination of tissue culture , protected environment and hydroponic technologies.
“These trials have performed creditably and the Ministry is now positioning this approach, in the short /medium term, as a private investment opportunity, to sustainably supply the industry with disease-free ginger planting material to our initial target of 2,700 tonnes per year,” he noted.
Regarding turmeric, Mr. Clarke informed that global trade increased from 66,000 tonnes to 79,000 tonnes between 2006 and 2008, before declining to 53,000 tonnes in 2010, due primarily to “weather influence in the areas of major origin.” He added that, “correspondingly, prices increased sharply.” Despite these, the Minister said turmeric trade is increasing, and is predicted to remain on that trajectory over the short to medium term.
He pointed out that CARICOM trade in turmeric averaged some 500 tonnes in imports, valued at approximately US$1.07 million ($91 million) annually. He said, however, that despite the regional and global demand, only a mere 75 tonnes are harvested and processed from the wild, in Jamaica.
Noting that wild harvesting is acceptable in some markets, he stressed that stronger preventive food safety regulations, in most target markets, necessitated turmeric being cultivated under controlled conditions, which meet and satisfy international requirements.
Mr. Clarke said that under a Ministry pilot project in 2010, local turmeric was evaluated for its curcumin content, which averaged four per cent, adding that “at that level, Jamaican turmeric assumes a desired price point, in the upper tier.”
General Manager of the Ministry’s Export Division, Sylburn Thomas, who informed that Jamaica’s ginger yield is second only to Nigeria’s, explained that the project targeting that spice is being undertaken in two components. One, he said, entails an open field operation aimed at increasing acreage and crop maintenance, with the second – a nursery component - dedicated to the production of clean disease-free planting material.
Regarding the open field operations, Mr. Thomas explained that, save for Kingston, activities in this aspect will be undertaken in virtually every parish. He informed that based on the profile of material received and field research, expansion will be undertaken in several parishes, including: St. Catherine, Trelawny, St. James, and St. Andrew. He reported that work to undertake full-scale ginger cultivation will be undertaken in parishes, such as Portland, St. Mary, St. Ann and Portland, while a programme of mainly maintenance will be carried in the others.
On the nursery component, Mr. Thomas pointed out that this is driven, principally, by private investment, with the parishes of St. Mary, St. Catherine, Clarendon, and Hanover being targeted. Entities partnering with the Ministry, in this regard, include: P.A. Benjamin and Salada Foods.
He disclosed that nurseries previously established have yielded as much as 4.8 pounds per plant, which he described as “very impressive”, while citing 10 pounds as the Ministry’s target. “So, we will tweak the processes for further optimisation (and) we will expand the number of facilities,” he advised.
Mr. Thomas said the core objective for the turmeric project is to engage in “structured production,” which can meet international market requirements. He informed that the main turmeric growing parishes are: Hanover, which accounts for approximately 78 per cent of total harvest; as well as Westmoreland, St. Elizabeth, St. James, Clarendon, St. Catherine, and to a lesser extent, St. Mary and St. Thomas.
He said the farmers participating in the project have been selected from St. Thomas, St. Mary, St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Hanover, Trelawny and Portland. The extent of cultivation is expected to range between one and 10 hectares.
Mr. Thomas assured that “dedicated” technical services have been put in place to ensure the project’s smooth implementation. This, he explained, included the services of consultant soil chemist, Dr. Clifford Shand, and the recruitment of 11 graduates of the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE).
Dr. Shand explained that in preparation for the projects, the graduates received specialist training in agronomy, soil chemistry and pest and disease management.
By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter