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article imageSales of Jamaican Coffee Falling Growers Worried

By Bob Ewing     Oct 19, 2008 in Business
Thousands of gourmet Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee beans are piling up after two of their largest buyers withdrew without explanation.
The pile of bags containing Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee are growing after tow of the largest buyers of this world renown coffee stopped buying; offering no explanation for their actions.
Wallenford Coffee Company is government owned and along with privately run Coffee Traders stopped buying more than a week ago.
Derrick Simon, spokesman for Jamaica's Coffee Growers Association said, "A lot of the buyers are withdrawing at this time. It's absolutely unprecedented."
Wallenford will apparently resume buying next week, but there is still no explanation as to why the halt took place.
Coffee Traders, a Kingston-based company, has not commented.
The withdrawals have arrived at a bad time, during a global financial crisis that has driven down prices of raw material exports and slashed income at exporting companies across Latin America, a commodity-rich region.
Norman Grant is the president of Jamaica's Agriculture Society and he claims said Wallenford is facing "challenges" but declined to provide specifics.
Grant also manages of Mavis Bank Central Factory, a top local purchaser of Blue Mountain coffee that he said has not lowered purchasing in recent weeks.
"We have remained in the market," he said. "We're still buying, and the product has not gone to waste."
In 2007, Jamaica exported some 16,200 tons (15,000 metric tons) of Blue Mountain coffee.. Mavis Bank and Wallenford account for 45 percent of exports, 85 percent of which is shipped to Japan.
Next come Britain and the U.S. adding their purchases to the US$30 million annually this popular bean earns for Jamaica
Christopher Gentles, executive director at the Coffee Industries Board said, "It's certainly not a crisis. Everything should be back to normal very soon."
Approximately, 7,000 farmers sell Blue Mountain coffee to eight companies, including Wallenford, one of the largest purchasers along with Mavis Bank.
Farmers produce about 3,000 boxes of coffee a day, at a cost of US$46 a box. Blue Mountain is one of the most expensive coffee beans worldwide, selling for roughly US$30 a pound.
"If Wallenford does not start buying by next week, it is going to be hard for the farmers to find another buyer," Simon said.
This is harvest season which runs September through December.
The coffee industry in Jamaica is still recovering from Hurricane Ivan, which devastated coffee fields in the Blue Mountain region in 2004.
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