JIS News

The Office of the National Reconstruction (ONR) is helping Jamaican farmers, who suffered devastating losses during Hurricane Ivan, to sow seeds of growth, by providing them with the necessary tools and supplies to begin the replanting process.
Agricultural Consultant at the ONR, Neville Condappa, tells JIS News that since October, farmers have been receiving vouchers to purchase fertiliser, seeds, and other farming supplies.
Mr. Condappa says that already, some 4,000 vouchers valued at $20 million, have been handed out to farmers in the parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, St. Mary, who incurred significant losses. The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) is assisting the distribution process.
“We have devised a system of getting the vouchers to the farmers, who have come in and identified themselves as bona fide farmers. They are happy with it, perhaps a little bit impatient, but they are happy with it,” Mr. Condappa notes.
He says that based on checks with distributors and agricultural stores where the vouchers are redeemable, the farmers have indeed, been “encashing or exchanging their vouchers” in favourable numbers.
The vouchers are redeemable at major distributors of agricultural inputs, such as T. Geddes Grant, Agro Grace, Antilles Chemicals, and the Jamaica Livestock Association.
The ONR estimates that approximately 80,000 farmers were directly affected by Hurricane Ivan, and with the first phase of the voucher disbursement having proceeded well in three parishes, the consultant says that it is expected that the islandwide roll out, should be completed by January of next year. “We are hoping to disburse in quick order, the additional sums of money, but we are doing this in a very strategic way,” he informs.
In terms of Ivan’s impact on the agricultural sector, Mr. Condappa indicates that “a wide variety of crops such as bananas, plantains, ground provisions, chickens, and livestock” were hard hit, adding that poultry production, particularly small poultry producers, were significantly hurt by the hurricane’s torrential rains. “A lot of poultry producers were wiped out,” he tells JIS News, noting that cocoa, coffee and timber were also lost in the hurricane.
“We are looking at various sectors and seeing how we can help them,” he says further. Among the sectors that have been identified for assistance, is the fisheries sector.
In addition to the voucher distribution process, the ONR is also looking at providing seedlings and plants to replant coffee, cocoa, and fruit trees, which were lost. “So while we are doing this”, Mr. Condappa says, “we are making sure that the assistance is strategically placed to get the maximum benefits. It will take a little time but we hope that at least the country will benefit from initial assistance within the next couple of weeks.”
Mr. Condappa concedes that there have indeed been complaints from farmers about the length of time taken for them to receive their benefits but assures that “we are moving around the country and the farmers should within the next month or so, see benefits in their hands.”
He notes however, that “the grouses have been minimal,” and in the main, “farmers have been overwhelmingly appreciative, and quite happy with the assistance.”
Mr. Condappa credits the achievements made thus far in rebuilding the nation’s agricultural sector, to the close relationships the ONR has been able to foster with local agricultural agencies as well as international agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “We have been working closely and bringing them together so we can have a sense of cohesiveness and a way forward,” he informs.
Asked to weight the ONR’s achievements to date, the agricultural consultant says the institution has been successful in cutting across Ministries and agencies and to bring people together and “create a sense of hope that something is being done with certainty and transparency.”
Besides being responsive to the urgent needs of the country’s farmers, Mr. Condappa says the ONR has worked with youth and environmental organisations to clean-up beaches in Treasure Beach, Negril, and Port Antonio.
“Recently, we were at the Hope Zoo, and if one should take a visit there [to see work done, post-Ivan], it is now a marvel. We have also been involved in the resettlement at Brighton, Old Harbour Bay, and Portland Cottage. All those resettlement plans are well advanced, and right now, we are signing contracts with various contractors for the repairing of schools,” he adds.
The ONR was established in September after the passage of Hurricane Ivan, to coordinate the reconstruction effort in several of the country’s badly affected sectors such as agriculture, and housing. The ONR, which is headed by Danville Walker, has a lifetime of six months.
Mr. Condappa says that in regard to the knowledge acquired from the formation of the ONR and the subsequent work it was mandated to carry out, “I think that we are in a position that after this, we can assess and learn some things. One, I think we will have to put together a team of trained assessors that can rapidly move out into the field, into housing, and agriculture to do rapid assessments of farms and infrastructure.”
“I think that we can learn that this type of coordination that has been put in can only be refined and only be made better. In terms of agriculture, I think farmers have now recognised how important they are, and they now need to recognise the need to pay attention to their farming practices, their erosion control, their drainage, where they plant, and so forth,” he states.