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The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will be providing technical and financial support to farmers, as it moves to get the sector back into production, posthaste.
Focus is being placed on protected agriculture with some $4 million to be allocated to the Greenhouse Growers Association for the repair of greenhouses.
Preliminary figures indicated more than $1 billion in damage to the agricultural sector from last week’s heavy rains associated with Tropical Storm Nicole, with greenhouse losses estimated at $12 million.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday (October 6) at his Old Hope Road offices, said that protected agriculture “remains the quickest way to get certain kinds of vegetable crops back to a level where we can provide for local demand”.
He said that some 10 per cent to 15 per cent of protected agriculture had been destroyed, with older-type greenhouses most affected.
“We are providing them with $4 million specifically to purchase the covering for the greenhouses so that we can get that subsector back up and running as quickly as possible,” Dr. Tufton stated.
He informed further that the Ministry is working in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to allocate some $12 million towards engaging a number of nursery operators to immediately commence the planting of seedlings, which will be grown in a protected environment. It is estimated that some 50,000 seedlings will be available, which will be sold at concessionary rate to farmers to start replanting.
“These seedlings will be protected somewhat from any rains that will come during now and the next three to four weeks and will be in a state of readiness to bring maturity at a quicker rate later on during the course of this quarter,” he said.
In the meantime, Dr. Tufton informed that an additional subsidy will be provided to the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) tractor programme to allow farmers to get “production. back up and running in the quickest possible time.”
He said that $3 million to $4 million will also be allocated to small chicken farmers. Backyard chicken operators lost approximately 150,000 birds during the flood rains.
“The intention is to recognise cases where they have had extensive and total loss and to provide them with a small quantity of birds and feed and hopefully, they, within their own capacity, can provide the additional funds to expand that number to get them back on track,” he said, noting that 40 per cent of poultry in the island is provided by small farmers.
In addition to the financial assistance, the Veterinary Division has dispatched animal technicians to provide prophylactic medication and vitamins to avert foot rot disease to small ruminants, which include goats and sheep. The cost of the medication is estimated at $2 million.
Dr. Tufton noted that the banana and plantain farmers will be getting support through the Banana Board’s Catastrophe Fund, which currently has about $50 million, while a committee from the Fund will be meeting to discuss the best way to provide support for the farmers.
“We recognise that this response will not restore our farmers to the state that they were in prior to the rains.there are other initiatives that we are working on. A lot will depend on resource availability, both from the budgetary allocation and stakeholder partners,” he stated.
He noted that the course of action will commence this week as part of the restoration process towards the sector.
The Minister further informed that the sector’s Disaster Management Committee has been meeting and is deciding on an appropriate course of action to ensure a “speedy response” to the sector.