The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is on a major drive to increase the use of solar energy to power its irrigation schemes across the island, in order to reduce operational expenditure and the reliance on fossil fuels.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Floyd Green, said it is anticipated that within the next two years, irrigation systems operated by the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) Limited will be run by solar technology.
He noted that, already, significant savings has been realised from the installation of the first large-scale solar photovoltaic system at the Bengal pump station in Trelawny, which was commissioned into service in January 2020.
The system is expected to reduce the annual energy cost at the facility by $3 million.
“We recognised that as much as we seek to improve irrigation supply, our ability to provide efficiently and at minimum cost is critical. In fact, we are targeting solar energy plants. We already started with a plant in Trelawny. I know we have started the work in relation to Hounslow in St. Elizabeth and we expect, over the next two years, that all our schemes will be powered by solar energy,” Minister Green said.
He was speaking at a ceremony at the NIC’s New Forrest office in Manchester on December 11 to hand over equipment valued at $29 million to the NIC and the Water Resources Authority (WRA) under the Essex Valley Agriculture Development Project (EVADP).
The NIC received a backhoe valued at $24 million, while a 2020 Nissan Qashqai sport utility vehicle (SUV), priced at $5 million, was presented to the WRA to aid in the maintenance and future viability of the £35.5-million agriculture project.
The project, which represents one of the largest investments in irrigation infrastructure in Jamaica, will impact the livelihoods of more than 700 farmers on 718 hectares of land through the provision of irrigated water and improved access to local and global agricultural markets.
Meanwhile, Minister Green informed that he has tasked officials at the Ministry to place greater emphasis on developing small water projects across the island in the upcoming financial year, in order to improve access of the commodity to farmers.
“The reality is that the quicker we can get water to our farmers is the greater the ability to transform the sector… . The NIC will have to expand its reach by developing smaller schemes that are based around water harvesting,” he noted.
“The NIC will now have to take up the mandate and look at the development and maintenance of catchment tanks [and] ponds and developing schemes around those solutions,” Minister Green added.
He argued: “The quicker we can get water into an area, even a short-term solution, even while we wait on a longer-term solution, is the better for our farmers. So I have tasked the NIC, in this upcoming financial year, to look at a budget that can help us develop some localised water schemes using water harvesting technology.”