Speaking Notes for the Hon. Karl Samuda, CD, MP, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries
Annual Meeting of the Coconut Growers
May 9, 2016
Jamaica Conference Centre
For many, many years sugar was the sole commercial crop cultivated in Jamaica. It was only during the Industrial Revolution when sugar became relatively less important in Britain that other commodities emerged as important commercial enterprises. Cocoa, coffee, citrus, banana and coconut were among these.
Unfortunately, we have developed all of these crops on a commodity basis, subject to the vagaries of commodity prices and not benefitting from the higher-value products from these crops, which were produced in Europe. Hence, the paradox of the renown of Belgian and Swiss chocolates, when not one cocoa tree is grown in either Belgium or Switzerland.
With specific reference to the coconut industry, we have seen significant expansion of coconut production in Jamaica, particularly in the eastern end of the country. And, we have also seen attempts to develop higher-value products such as oil, and soaps. However, the industry has faced serious setbacks, especially resulting from the onset of the lethal yellowing disease. And, despite the research efforts of the Coconut Industry Board, we have not been able to effectively control this problem.
There has been a decline in most of our commodities in terms of primary production, as follows:
Sugar: from a peak of over 500,000 tonnes in 1965 to 134,324 tonnes in 2015.
Citrus: 138,479 tonnes in 2000 to 74,336 tonnes in 2015
Cocoa: 930 tonnes in 2000 to 266.4 in 2015
Coconut: 122.2 million nuts in 2000 to 99.2 million in 2015
Despite this decline, the Government is still of the view that these traditional crops still have the potential to play a significant role in our journey of economic growth and increased productivity.
This is our belief because:
Jamaican coffee is the best in the world; Jamaican cocoa is rated among the top nine “fine or flavoured” cocoa worldwide.
Yet, despite this, coupled with our strong brand recognition, there is still untapped potential in the market for these Jamaican products.
This Government has always recognised this potential and that is why in the last JLP administration a decision was taken by the Cabinet to rationalise the regulatory functions of all of the Commodity Boards and, simultaneously, divest Government’s commercial interest in these commodities. This will have the effect of more efficiently safeguarding the export quality of these products on the regulation side, while at the same time, freeing up these commodities so that all eligible enterprises can participate in export.
In this, I am happy to say, the Legislation Committee has examined the JACRA Bill and it is now on its way to Parliament.
It is not by chance that this new Administration deliberately merged the portfolios of Industry and Commerce with Agriculture Fisheries. Within this context, my mission and mandate is to create strong agro-industries. This means that even while we will do everything to expand production, we will simultaneously address all the binding constraints in order to move seamlessly up the value chain to create higher-value products, which the market is demanding.
In terms of the Coconut Industry Board, the establishment of JACRA will not diminish, but rather enhance and facilitate the development of the coconut industry.
The power to grant licences to exporters of coconut products will now be the remit of JACRA, while the Coconut Industry Board will cease to exist as a statutory body.
This, therefore, means that the Coconut Industry Board will have to reconstitute itself as a legal entity, under a different format – either as a co-op or a limited liability company.
The longstanding research and extension functions of the Board will remain with the survivor organization of the Board and will not be undertaken by JACRA.
I am aware of the tremendous demand for coconut and coconut products, both in Jamaica and the world. The world is once again rediscovering the tremendous benefits of coconut oil. It is an indictment on us that we are still importing coconut powder and coconut milk from as far away as Thailand. Let us be frank: notwithstanding the issues with lethal yellowing, we have not been expanding coconut production at even a quarter of the pace required!
We have to change that.
Ladies and gentlemen, when we talk about prosperity, these are the opportunities staring us in the face – to produce more coconuts to satisfy the huge unmet demand that exists.
The key to prosperity is in the soil.
As Minister, I am prepared to work with the Coconut Industry Board to rapidly expand the nurseries; find suitable lands for the expansion of production and to complement coconut production with short-term crops to provide interim income for those involved in production.
I know we had an issue with the shares of the Board. I am prepared to work with the Board to find a solution that would satisfy both imperatives, that is, for the Board to make its contribution to national development through the Consolidated Fund as required under the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act while unlocking some of the huge resources of the Board to be used for the expansion and development of the coconut industry. This expansion and development requires true collaboration and partnership.
Let’s work together!