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Jamaican ginger price too spicey

More than 98 per cent of ginger produced in Jamaica is consumed locally, with export markets constrained by high pricing, says General Manager of the Exports Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Byron Henry.

“Local ginger is overpriced because of low productivity,” said Henry, while noting that the local tuber sells at US$22 per kilogram whereas its gingers from China and Nigeria is supplied at one-third that price, US$7.

“If farmers can produce at 50 per cent of existing price, it would increase access to local, Caribbean and the US [markets],” he said.

Globally spice commodities are used in food preparation, seasonings, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and nutraceuticals. Because of their distinctive flavours, Jamaican spices are in demand.

However, falling production volumes and rising prices are leading US spice buyers to source ginger, turmeric, and pimento from other countries at considerable cost savings, according to the representatives of the Food for Progress Jamaica Spices, a project of the Ministry of Agriculture and the US Department of Agriculture that aims to deliver better outcomes for the spice commodities market.

The ginger sector “needs serious government intervention including provision of clean planting material, irrigable and arable lands and access to water and tractors,” said Henry.

Other spices have also been “experiencing serious push back since the Ukraine war”, he added.

However, pimento and turmeric were doing better on international markets, he said.

Pimento, which sells locally at $500 or US$10.20 per pound, on average, is outperforming other sectors, Henry said. Its main markets are Germany and Japan, followed by the United States.

Previously, the US was the main market but there has been a slowdown there in usage of spices.

Meanwhile, due to higher levels of agro-processing, Henry noted that local pimento usage has grown by 150 per cent since 2015. Currently, consumption is 50 per cent local and 50 per cent exports, inclusive of products traded by agro-processors.

The Jamaica spices project was launched in early June under the USDA’s Food for Progress Programme, which targets developing countries and provides assistance to modernise and strengthen agricultural sectors.

Food for Progress Jamaica Spices is a five-year programme which runs until 2027. It aims to revitalise the island’s spice industry by increasing yields of turmeric, ginger, and pimento, cultivated on 2,250 hectares of land. The target growth is 50 per cent.

The aim is to generate overall projected sales of US$20.75 million, by providing support to 7,500 stakeholders, including women and youth.

Minister Floyd Green said at the June 1 launch that there was a lack of access to clean planting material, poor access to financial support, and a lack of climate change mitigation efforts within the sector.

Ginger production rose nearly 26 per cent in 2022 and the ministry was distributing clean seedlings to farmers to keep up the momentum, he indicated.

There was also a big spike in pimento harvesting in 2022, which climbed to 338,000 kilograms. This output generated US$2.4 million from exports, and $34 million from sales to the domestic market.

Commodities regulator JACRA says the export markets for pimento include the US, United Kingdom, Japan, Trinidad, Germany, Holland, India, Malaysia, and St Lucia.

Chief of party for the USDA Food for Progress project, Dr Ronald Blake, said there are significantly high levels of unmet demand for local and export produce and value-added products.

The sector also faces challenges such as poor access to financing and fragmentation in the farmer base.

As such, buyers are now sourcing ginger, turmeric, and pimento from other countries at considerable cost savings, Blake said.

Additionally, while ginger production grew at a robust pace last year, it was said to be far below its full potential.

In relation to turmeric, JACRA said exports fell to 303,451 kg, most of which was sold mainly to: United States – 301,890 kg US$486,304; United Kingdom – 1,500 kg for ?3,450; and Canada – 61.29 kg for CDN$67.50.

In 2021, some 312,594 kg of turmeric were exported in 2021, valued at US$505,096, mainly to markets in the US, UK and Canada.

“JACRA is currently working to better structure the ginger and turmeric sectors and is on a drive to license agro-processors and dealers and register farmers,” said Shanika Newman, senior director of the Cocoa, Spices & Coconut Division of the Jamaica Commodities Regulatory Authority.

“With this in place, we will be better able to report on national production, local sales and exports,” Newman said.

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