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Come tomorrow (Nov.14), the People’s Cooperative (PC) Bank is slated to begin processing loan applications for the disbursement of $100 million to banana farmers ,who suffered heavy losses during the passage of Hurricane Sandy three weeks ago.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, said that the exercise will commence at the Trinity boxing plant in St Mary, one of the three banana producing parishes hardest hit. The others are Portland and St. Thomas.

Speaking at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the loan facility at the Ministry’s Hope Gardens offices on Tuesday (Nov. 13), Minister Clarke, informed that the processing of loan applications for farmers in Portland will commence on Friday (Nov. 16) at the Boundbrook Wharf.

The loan facility was negotiated by the Ministry with the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), which has dispatched the funds to the PC bank, for disbursement through its branches. The Ministry was able to provide $13. 5 million in subsidy, which will enable the farmers to receive the loans at a five per cent interest rate, down from the 8.5 per cent proposed by DBJ.

Mr. Clarke indicated that the $100 million represents a 100 per cent increase on $50 million previously earmarked by the DBJ to finance a Ministry pilot project aimed at resuscitating the industry and stimulating the local market in the wake of significant dislocation caused by Tropical Storms Gustav and Nicole in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

“We were on the verge of moving forward to see how well we could get back on track…(and) were awaiting disbursement of the funds and the implementation (of the) programme (when) Hurricane Sandy (struck). It…might (well have been)…a blessing in disguise that we did not put that $50 million programme in place earlier, because  we would have been back at square one,’ the Minister stated.

He encouraged the farmers to make their applications to the PC Banks in order to access this facility, noting that they must be registered with the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA) and the Banana Board.

He said that the Banana Board, through its Transfer Officers, will be providing technical support to assist the farmers in preparing their loan applications. This provision, which he informed, is being underwritten by the Agricultural Credit Board (ACB) at a cost of $5 million, is to “ensure that all the protocols and standards of production are achieved to guarantee the success of this supervised loan programme”.

Minister Clarke also advised that additional assessments are being conducted in St. Mary consequent on heavy flood rains, which lashed the parish over the last weekend.

Jamaica’s agricultural sector sustained heavy damage and losses totalling some $1.5 billion during the passage of Hurricane Sandy on October 24, resulting in the dislocation of some 37,000 farmers. 

Approximately 70 per cent of the local banana industry was impacted, with Portland, St, Thomas and St. Mary recording up to 100 per cent losses.

Bananas aside, there was damage to plantains, cocoa, root crops, tubers, poultry, vegetables, and sugar cane, and Clarke disclosed that relief is also being extended to these are other sub-sectors, through RADA. These include: the distribution of fertilizer, chickens, feeds, seeds, and funding to assist with making purchases.

“I think, in total, we are going to be distributing about 22,000 bags of fertilizer. We were assisted by (local fertilizer manufacturer Newport) Fersan Limited, which made a donation of about 1000 bags and we are purchasing the rest (from them). They have kindly consented to give us a discount of about eight per cent from what we are buying from them,” the Minister informed.