Help for coffee farmers
SMALL coffee farmers who have been severely affected by the ongoing decline in the industry will now have access to $60 million, which has been donated by philanthropist and businessman Michael Lee-Chin, and his family.
The money, being made available through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), will assist the neediest of the 7,000 registered coffee farmers.
The announcement was made during a media briefing at the New Kingston offices of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries on Monday.
Under the arrangement, farmers will indicate to RADA what their immediate needs are in terms of tools and other supplies that can help to boost their productivity. RADA will then purchase the items required.
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw thanked Lee-Chin for the personal contribution, which will go towards the welfare of coffee farmers by helping them to “get back on their feet and help their families”.
He said that this short-term intervention is a welcome boost to the industry, which is “at a crossroads”, having declined dramatically over the past 25 years.
“We used to produce 700,000 boxes of Blue Mountain coffee. We are targeting 230,000 or 240,000 right now — that's a pretty sharp decline,” he said, noting, as well, that 20,000 boxes of High Mountain coffee are now being produced, where it previously yielded 400,000 boxes.
With coffee prices as low as $4,000 per box last year, Shaw lamented that the country's farmers do not have much bargaining power and control over market prices.
“It is most unfortunate that while the demand for coffee consumption globally has either been steady or generally increasing, our coffee industry is going in the opposite direction. Something has to be done about it,” he stressed.
The minister noted that even though the industry is now privatised, the Government is still committed to working with stakeholders to ensure the industry is resuscitated.
“Government still has responsibility, in our view, for facilitation and for the aggressive promotion of the coffee industry. It's another one of our unique products; we have to promote it to the hilt,” he said.
He said the Administration will ensure the continued integrity of the product; continue to provide technical support, extension services and technology transfer for small farmers; and provide general industry development.
The intervention was initiated by Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Juliet Holness, who said she approached Lee-Chin last week to outline the plight of coffee farmers and to seek his assistance.
“This one-time gift to the farmers means that many are going to be comfortably able to send their children back to school this term, and many will be in a position to be able to access, through RADA, some amount of assistance,” she said.
Holness noted that farmers she has interacted with have requested a tractor for them to share between their communities; a truck to transport their coffee to market; as well as pesticides, fungicides and fertiliser.
For his part, Lee-Chin said he is aware that the Government does not have the fiscal space to provide relief, and, therefore, the gift is “a stop-gap solution to the plight faced by our farmers” in an industry that “is in crisis”.