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The administration faced one of its sternest tests during its first year in office, having to identify resources to resuscitate the agricultural sector, which was devastated by severe storm systems twice in 12 months.
On August 19, some 15 and 23 days respectively before the new administration won the General Elections and assumed office, the island, while not receiving a direct hit, was severely lashed by the outer bands of Hurricane Dean, which passed South of the country. A little over a year later, on August 29, Jamaica was, affected by Tropical Storm Gustav, which left a trail of destruction, and dislocation in its wake.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Dean, the Bruce Golding-led Government hit the ground running as it moved to effect recovery measures in one of, if not the most vulnerable of the country’s sectors – agriculture.
Assessments of the losses sustained in the sector from Dean’s passage, amounted to $3.7 billion, with domestic crops accounting for $904 million. In light of this, the Ministry of Agriculture, with Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton at the helm, undertook the implementation of a number of initiatives aimed at salvaging the sector.
High on the agenda was the distribution of fertilisers to farmers in some of the parishes that were hardest hit, including: St. Elizabeth, Portland, Manchester, and St. Catherine, to assist them in resuscitating their fields to productivity. The Government allocated $260 million, which went to providing seeds, fruit tree crop assistance, and support for the banana, coffee, and fisheries industries.
Dr. Tufton also handed over cheques totalling $31.5 million to greenhouse farmers, whose operations were damaged. The funds were made available through the collaborative efforts of the Ministry, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Canadian Agency for International Development (CIDA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under its Rural Enterprise, Agriculture and Community Tourism (REACT) project.
The project targeted vegetable and poultry farmers, primarily in Manchester, Clarendon, and St. Catherine. Farmers, whose greenhouses were damaged, also benefitted, as more sustainable structures, capable of withstanding gale force winds, were erected. Additionally, the capability of greenhouse producers was strengthened through the provision of training and technical assistance in greenhouse engineering and operations management.
Mini-slaughterhouses were also constructed, consistent with public health guidelines, in order to enhance food safety and permit the certification of the poultry meat produced by these farmers, thereby improving their access to other segments of the local market.
In light of the vulnerability of banana plants, which are under constant threat during the hurricane season, the Government reported that it would be exploring an insurance facility for the sector. This would pre-determine the occurrence of natural disasters, and make payments on that basis.
Fast forward to one year later, August 29, and the agricultural sector, again, sustained a battering, this time, from an erratic Tropical Storm Gustav, which was in no hurry to leave Jamaica’s shores.
The highest concentration of damage consequently sustained by the sector occurred in the eastern parishes of St. Thomas, St. Mary, and Portland, the country’s main banana-producing region.
Banana and plantain farmers lost between 70 and 90 per cent of their crops during the storm’s onslaught. Cultivations in St. Andrew, St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth, and Westmoreland, also sustained damage.
Dr. Tufton advised that total losses amounted to $1.5 billion, and while noting that this was “no way near that of (Hurricanes) Ivan and Dean,” pointed out that “this means that a number of farmers would have lost their hard labour.” In this regard, he announced that the Ministry has commenced the provision of assistance to those farmers, adding that Government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), will be assisting in the process.
“(We) will be working with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), and Food for the Poor. We are providing seeds, fertiliser, and technical support. this will reach farmers at the community and parish levels, who are registered. It won’t be a complete compensation for the damage suffered, but enough to get farmers back into production,” Dr. Tufton informed.