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A banker has joined calls for players in the coffee industry to invest more effort in expanding the industry beyond its focus on beverage production.

The call was made recently by JN Bank’s retail sales manager, Nickeisha Cleary as she addressed farmers on day one of the recently ended Blue Mountain Coffee Festival in St Andrew. The forum was held at the University of Technology in Papine.

“We need to explore new options, because there are many new things that we can do with coffee, from making sauces to creating new blends,” said Ms Cleary. 

The once-thriving Jamaican coffee industry, which boasts the world-renowned Jamaican Blue Mountain brand and contributes more than US$25 million to the Jamaican economy, has been in decline.  A reduction in the demand for Blue Mountain Coffee in overseas markets, coupled with crop disease and trademark infringements, have left scores of local farmers in a predicament.

“The time has come for us to think differently in the industry, and to look beyond coffee in a cup, to focus on its broader value–added production for export, so that we can increase demand and production,” Ms. Cleary emphasised.

Coffee exports have dropped in the past 25 years from 700,000 boxes to about 250,000 agricultural minister, Audley Shaw has been reported as indicating. In the past year alone prices have declined by as much as 70 per cent from a high of $12,000 per box, to its current low at $3,500. This is while the cost to produce a box of coffee is as much as $4,000, leaving many farmers to ponder new survival strategies.

“What coffee farmers are earning today clearly does not contribute to the sustainability of coffee growing; nor does it provide adequate returns for your hard work; or, to make your vocation sustainable,” Ms. Cleary said to the coffee farmers in attendance.

However, despite her calls, many farmers remain hopeful that coffee will return to its glory days.

Colin Burton, a retired agriculturist and coffee farmer from Portmore, St Catherine, pointed out that he has invested too much in his 20-acre farm, over the past 27 years, to give up. He remains hopeful that the price of coffee will increase.

“I get $3,000 per box of coffee, but I pay $1,200 per box to reap it. The other inputs are also high like fertilizer, transportation, and chemicals,” he disclosed.

Among the initiatives that the JN Group is extending to coffee farmers, to revive the ailing coffee industry are: business financing for expansion into new areas; exploration of new markets; and, insurance solutions to mitigate against environmental impacts. In addition, Ms Cleary pointed out that farmers can also access funds for research and development; acquire knowledge, expertise, and capital; as well as, support renewed export activities. 

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