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Despite the impact of the prolonged drought, Jamaica’s agricultural sector recorded a 3.1 per cent increase in gross production in the first quarter of 2010 (January to March), according to Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton.
While the figure was significantly lower than the 33.5 per cent recorded during October to December 2009, the Minister pointed out that the period under review was the seventh consecutive quarter of expansion recorded by the sector.
Addressing journalists at a media briefing at his Ministry in Kingston on Tuesday (April 27), Dr. Tufton highlighted the output variances in the domestic and traditional crops, which recorded increases of 3.9 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively.
He said several crops have done well and plantain, tubers and condiments were the main domestic crops recording significant increases during the quarter.
“Plantain showed a 41.4 per cent increase, followed by potatoes, yams, and other tubers with increases of 27.5 per cent, 20 per cent and 15.7 per cent, respectively. Condiments also recorded a significant increase of 13.3 per cent,” he stated.
The increases in potatoes and condiments were especially impacted by the production and productivity programme at the Ministry, which has shown a growth of 125.5 per cent with hot peppers recording a 83.4 per cent increase.
Dr. Tufton said that, while the period saw a 12.4 per cent increase in acreage, cultivated yields declined, consequent on the drought, which was pronounced in south central parishes, impacting a number of critical crops. These included fruits, legumes and vegetables, which recorded declines of 50 per cent, 23 per cent and 6.9 per cent respectively.
Pointing to the susceptibility of vegetables and legumes to drought conditions, he noted that production of these crops was concentrated in the worst affected parishes.
In terms of parish profiles, the Minister pointed out that while St. Elizabeth, Trelawny and Manchester continued to lead the rest of the island, recording the highest outputs, with 21.7 tonnes, 20.4 tonnes and 18.5 tonnes, respectively, only Manchester recorded an increase in production during the period.
Production figures for St. Elizabeth, when compared to the corresponding period last year, declined by 8.7 per cent and Trelawny by 5.6 per cent, while Manchester increased by 3.9 per cent.
Other parishes, which Dr. Tufton said recorded increases during the period were: St. Mary, 107 per cent, largely due to Irish potato production; St. Thomas, 11.2 per cent; Portland, 29.2 per cent ; St. Ann, 4.7 per cent; Hanover, 33 per cent; Westmoreland, 39 per cent; and Clarendon, 1.3 per cent.
In terms of traditional crop yield, Dr. Tufton said that sugar cane production recorded a 14.8 per cent increase, with 908,406 tonnes being reaped during the period. Additionally, there was a five per cent increase in citrus production. Banana production was also rebounding from Tropical Storm Gustav and continues to show some improvement. However, coffee declined by 28 per cent, due mainly to the drought.
Noting the rainfall which the island has been experiencing over the past few weeks, Dr. Tufton expressed the hope that this was a sign that the drought would break soon. He also pointed out that “quite a bit of land’ was currently being prepared for cultivation.
“If we get the expected rainfall that we are accustomed to during this time of the year, combined with the land preparation that is taking place, we expect to see very strong growth at the end of this quarter into the next quarter,” Dr. Tufton stated.