Farmers Benefiting from Irrigation System in Pedro Plains


Since the commissioning of the Pedro Plains Irrigation system in June 2007, many farmers in South St. Elizabeth have been benefiting from the facility, which has provided well needed water for their crops.
Steve Lawrence, Programme Director of the National Irrigation Development Programme tells JIS News that the constraining factor in that region of St. Elizabeth has always been the unavailability of water.
He adds that with the provision of water for almost 500 hectares of land, farmers for the first time know that they have a guaranteed source.
“They know what it is like to lose a crop because the rains don’t come, and to put in a system where, whether the rains come or not, there will be a guaranteed supply of water, has stimulated them and they have responded quite vigorously to it,” Mr. Lawrence adds.
He also points out that persons in adjoining areas who have always been accustomed to water shortage are “a little jealous of them and are clamouring for more water.”
“Water is a constraint in this region and we are examining how best to assist the rest, but it’s not on the cards for everybody at this time. But we do recognise that it is a region that produces well and we should do our best to help them when we can,” the Programme Director says.
Mr. Lawrence explains that an irrigation system requires almost a change in the way the farmer operates, with some training in respect of the use of irrigated water.
“What we have recommended is that most of them use drip irrigation and the others have the option of using sprinkler irrigation. But essentially, what has happened is we try to do some training in the use of the water, because if it is not efficiently used, the cost is going to be prohibitive. The efficient use of the water will make sure that their bills are manageable and of course the production will be a profitable endeavour,” he says.
The Pedro Plains irrigation system is the first flagship project to be delivered under the government’s National Irrigation Development Master Plan, which is being piloted by the NIC, with a view to increasing farmer participation in the agricultural sector.
This project complements the government’s long-term agricultural development strategy up to the year 2015, by which time it is projected that some 6,900 farming families will have benefited directly from three major flagship projects being undertaken by the NIC and its partners in various sections of the island.
The Project Director notes that the NIC at some stage will hand over the management of the system to the farmers themselves. They will be responsible for their own harnessing, distribution, the setting of rates and collection. “They are not there yet, we don’t expect to turn farmers into engineers to run pumps. We think that at some stage when they acquire the business skills and the understanding of the running of the delivery of water in a profitable way, they may be able to outsource that and the skills may not be employed by the NIC, but at least they will be doing the same function,” he tells JIS News.
“But our eventual aim is to hand over to them. It’s a long process, we are working with them, continuing with training and we will from time to time hand over smaller functions to them, but it is really in a transitory period. But it will be gradually handed over to them and then the role of the NIC will be more of monitoring and regulating the irrigation sector and being a supplier of water,” he adds.
Thomas Lewis, a farmer who is one of the many beneficiaries of the newly commissioned irrigation system, plants melon, cucumber and peanut.
He says before the irrigation system was put in place, “the water system was very bad and very expensive.”
“Since the system has been turned on, it has been more comfortable and easy now, but still the bill is a little high. I don’t know if we are not using the water properly. I use the sprinkler system, I don’t know if I overuse it or what, but the bill is a bit high now,” Mr. Lewis says.
He tells JIS News that since the implementation of the irrigation system, production has increased. However, he notes that they are having some difficulty with markets for their produce.
Elton Bent, Parish Manager for the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) in St. Elizabeth, explains that one of the major reasons for the poor market is the high availability of fruits.
“I think one of the major reasons is the amount of fruits that are presently on the market (such as) mango, naseberry and guava, and as such, the demand for watermelon has reduced significantly,” Mr. Bent says.
In addition, he points out that most of the farmers do not inform RADA that they are planting a particular crop until they are ready to reap.
“When they call us and tell us that the crop is ready, it creates a problem to identify markets immediately. So at our training sessions we always ask the farmer to tell us in advance, give us two or three weeks, so that we can inform our marketing unit as to when to expect these things to come on the market,” the Parish Manager says.
He also informs that extension officers are doing a number of farm visits, but the number is limited.
“Although they are out there five days per week visiting these farms, there are still farms that they probably do not know about. Bear in mind that there are farmers who work at 10 different farms, so they might know two or three, but they don’t know the rest,” Mr. Bent says.
Meanwhile, Mr Lawrence informs that since the NIC officially began providing water for the farmers in December, it has been “heart rendering to go to the location and observe how the farmers have responded to the new found water.”
“They are so thrilled with the water that they will overuse it and as a result of that, we are trying to make sure that efficiency is high on their list. The fact is the more efficient they are, the further the water can go and then we will have more beneficiaries that can use this water,” he tells JIS News.
So far, more than 130 farmers have been contracted by the National Irrigation Commission’s (NIC) Commercial Department to be supplied with water, with 90 farmers currently receiving the commodity from the irrigation system.

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