Hill’s banana deal pays off

  • Video by Kyle McNeil

  • Banana bonanza: Walter Roban, the home affairs minister (left) with Roland Hill, the importer who brought bananas back to Bermuda (File photograph)

    Banana bonanza: Walter Roban, the home affairs minister (left) with Roland Hill, the importer who brought bananas back to Bermuda (File photograph)

Supplying Bermuda with imported bananas for the first time in months was not without risk, farmer and entrepreneur Roland “Junior” Hill said yesterday.

Mr Hill said he took a “big chance — there was a lot of money on the line”.

But he added: “It paid off, it did, it worked well.

“I think we should be happy for Bermuda; we made a lot of people happy this week.”

Mr Hill’s 42,000-pound shipment from Costa Rica arrived on the docks on Sunday and was in stores by Tuesday after passing inspection.

The bananas were the first to arrive from overseas to be declared pest-free since January.

Mealybugs, a type of scale insect that threatens a variety of crops, were found in earlier imports.

Mr Hill, the owner of J&J Produce, said he brought in a very small sample shipment of bananas in late July before he gave the go-ahead for the big order.

He added that a second 40-foot container of bananas was scheduled to arrive on the island soon.

Mr Hill said he has been working on the project since November.

He added: “I got the requirements from the lab here, and spoke with people I know in Costa Rica and came up with a solution.

“The guys I worked with in Costa Rica go to school for this, they’re in the bug business.”

He admitted that the potential profit was a motivation.

But Mr Hill said he had seen bugs cause havoc before in his 40 years as a farmer.

He added: “I have seen three or four bugs come in and do damage. It’s the bug thing that got me. I was interested.”

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said Mr Hill had persisted where bigger importers had not.

Mr Roban added: “He did what was necessary to succeed. He and the people he worked with should be congratulated.”

Terry Lynn Thompson, the acting director of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, said: “We hope to continue working with importers like Mr Hill and anyone else who can import clean bananas successfully because Bermudians really love their bananas.”

Mr Roban added: “Plant biosecurity is of paramount importance to any country, to safeguard food security, sustainability of agricultural and horticultural production, and also protect the livelihood of farmers and landscapers.”

He said produce imported to Bermuda must be pre-inspected in the country of origin and was inspected again on arrival by staff at Bermuda’s plant protection department, part of the DENR.

Mr Roban said the procedures were “meticulous and rigid”, and the plant protection department was “acclaimed internationally and regionally” for its efficiency.

Mr Hill added it was vital that Bermuda continued its rigorous testing regime. He said: “Most Caribbean islands have major problems with mealybugs.

“Bermuda does a good job. We can’t let our guard down. We have to keep clean product coming.”

Mr Roban said the Covid-19 pandemic had underlined the “need for clean, safe and healthy food”.

He added that a government study of the island’s agricultural sector would be “finished very soon”.

Mr Roban said 700 acres of land in Bermuda were zoned for agriculture, but only half were farmed.

He added soil content and other factors were being assessed to decide if more land was suitable for farming.

Mr Roban said: “We can clearly do more but it’s how we do more and where we do more.”

He added: “We believe there is an opportunity for new farmers to come into the market.”

Mr Roban said the use of extra farmland would require “preparation, training and investment”.

He added: “As a government we are also committed to aquaculture, mariculture, vertical farming, and hydroponics.”

Mr Hill said: “Greenhouse farming is the way to go. Hydroponics is the way to go. You will see more greenhouses popping up. There is a lot we can do.”

Mr Roban said 80 per cent of Mr Hill’s banana shipment had been inspected, with the rest be inspected by the end of today.

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Published Aug 15, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 15, 2020 at 8:00 am)

Hill’s banana deal pays off

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