Following a tour of farming communities in the parish on Thursday, November 26, Minister Kellier commended farmers for their commitment to the industry and resilience against the protracted drought resulting in real growth of 3.1 percent in the sector. He described them as the backbone of the economy.
“The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in response to dry weather condition that has been experienced by farmers over the last two consecutive quarters, continues to probe not only immediate relief but also through various programmes we are seeking to build the sector’s resilience to climate change, because that more than anything else is what is affecting us,” Mr. Kellier told a gathering of farmers and their political representatives at St Michael’s Church Hall in South St Elizabeth.
Having a population of some 24,900 farmers in the parish, South and South East St Elizabeth produce the highest levels of vegetables and condiments in the country. With the dry spell at its peak earlier this year, several farmers saw their crops, including water melons as well as livestock, devastated by fires and the lack of water.
Mr. Kellier said the drought problem in Southern St Elizabeth has been a recurring decimal over many years and emphasis had to be placed on mitigating strategies to be employed. As an immediate solution, government is distributing water storage tanks to farmers for a sustained recovery programme to ensure a continuous supply of vegetable island-wide.
Since July 50 tanks have been distributed and another 135 will be in the hands of farmers of St. Elizabeth over the next few months. In total over 5,000 black tanks will be made available to farmers island-wide by the end of the 2016/17 financial year through the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA).
Concurrently, an irrigation scheme has been developed in South St Elizabeth and South Manchester covering Beacon/Little Park, Hounslow and New Forest Duff House. Also, a loading ramp has been established by the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) at Short Hill. Minister Kellier said more trucks would be acquired to address the problem of water delivery and cost to farmers in some areas.
In collaboration with funding partners, including JA-REEACH, a climate change strategy and action plan is being developed. This is being complemented by the government’s Adaptation Fund Programme under the Climate Change Adaptation Fund for the establishment of water harvesting for farmers and training in climate smart agricultural practices.
Additionally, collaboration is taking place with the Meteorological Office to develop usable climate forecasts for farmers and instillation of weather stations in the parish to provide real-time information that will guide decision-making.
“All of these things are important because we have been doing the same thing the same way for many, many years. Every year we expect drought and we have been doing the same thing and while we survive these droughts because of the resilience of the farmers, we have to find new ways to beat the drought phenomenon that is going to be continually on us for years to come to come,” said Minister Keller.
He said the solution was to set the stage for farmers to survive by have access to water year round so they do not become bogged down by the drought. And having been forewarned that the drought will persist into next year, Mr. Kellier said “this simply means the mitigation that we do has to be heightened and we have to move with more speed and alacrity.”
A decision has therefore been taken to rehabilitate the Spring Ground Well adjoining the New Forest House Agro Park “in short order in the financial year with Government of Jamaica funds. That has already been approved at the ministry level and the NIC is now doing the technical work to get that irrigation system back into production,” Mr. Kellier disclosed.