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JIS News

Researcher and Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr. Dharanate Amarakoon, is currently carrying out studies on the impact of climate change on sugar cane yields, to assist with better planning for the industry.
Climate change manifests itself in the Caribbean through more frequent and intense tropical storms and floods, reduced fresh water supplies and rise in sea levels.
Speaking with JIS News, Dr. Amarakoon explained that studies done in Jamaica, the Caribbean and the rest of the world showed that too much rainfall and too much drought would affect sugar cane and more importantly, the sugar content. He pointed out that too much rain in the mature stage would spoil the cane, but at the same time, too little at the beginning would thwart the growth of the young cane.
“You also have to look at the inter annual variability of climate, as in one year it can be extremely dry and another year it can be extremely rainy, as it was last year. These things, coupled with El Nino, can mean a lot of rain or drought for us,” he said.
The study project will look at how these factors influence the sugar cane yield in Jamaica.
Collaborating with the Worthy Park Sugar Estate in St. Catherine, Dr. Amarakoon will record the signs of how rain, temperature and El Nino can affect sugar cane output. “We are also trying to model the sugar cane output based on the climate conditions and from that, try to predict the yield for next year and [thereafter],” he explained.
Noting that it was important to look at how climate change could affect sugar, Dr. Amarakoon said that studies have shown that there was a link and, “once these links are proven further, then the information can be given to policy makers, factory owners and estate owners, so that they can plant regular cane.use a different variety sugar cane, or use another crop during a drought year”.
Dr. Amarakoon said what this meant to Jamaica, was that climate change could result in both excessive rain and drought, depending on atmospheric conditions.
He pointed out that if it became too hot, with extreme heat and drought, Jamaica could plant a different drought resistant variety, or plant another crop, such as sorghum, for the bad year and go back to sugar cane the following year, when the climate was right. This, he said, could be done once the exact situation was known.
With a three-month seasonal forecast already in place, Dr. Amarakoon pointed out that, “very soon, it will be possible to predict a climate change scenario. With the scenario, they (policy makers) can then tell the farmers and those in the agricultural sector what is going to happen next year or maybe the year after, so they can plan ahead”.
In order to assist the project, Dr. Amarakoon has written mathematical models with inputs such as soil parameter, moisture content and growth cycle of cane. The mathematical model results may also be used to create maps for the Geographic Information System (GIS).