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JIS News

An interesting feature of rural life is the simple, unspoiled existence of persons who have come to devise creative ways of surviving under challenging circumstances.
For the farmers of Duff House and New Forest, in South Manchester, farming has long been their main economic activity. This area, bordering the bread basket parish of St. Elizabeth, is traditionally known for the cultivation of vast acres of escallion, thyme, watermelon, cucumber and tomato.
While these farmers are faced with numerous challenges as they attempt to feed not only the nation, but the various countries to which their produce is exported, the most difficult one they confront is an inadequacy of water for irrigation purposes.
Rupert Clarke, a member of the New Forest/Duff House Water Users Association, tells JIS News that water has been very costly, as he has had to harness the unreliable and inconsistent supply from the National Water Commission (NWC), and use four generators to distribute the commodity. “This is very expensive to maintain, as the generators consume significant quantities of fuel on a regular basis,” he says.
“The water is so low, and I use overhead irrigation, so I have to catch it in a tank and use generators to pump it back to the plants. The water really is our biggest problem outside of marketing,” he complains.
His concern mirrors those of the remaining 419 persons comprising the New Forest/Duff House Water Users Association, many of whom are not able, because of limited funds, to set up sophisticated irrigation systems, which will allow them to remain economically viable.
To address the plight of this group of farmers, who continue to play a major role in ensuring the country’s food security, the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) has provided a lifeline to ensure their livelihood.
Under the relatively new National Irrigation Development Programme (NIDP), developed by the Government and executed by the NIC, farmers, particularly those along Jamaica’s southern plains, are to benefit from more efficient and effective irrigation systems, designed to maximise the cultivation of crops, as well as increase farm income, while affording persons an improved standard of living.
Under this scheme, five production wells are currently being drilled at Duff House, Plumwood, Lane, Rowes Corner and New Forest, which should be interconnected through a complex network of pipelines, allowing them to efficiently address the needs of the local farmers. They will operate at an average discharge rate of 75 litres per second, per day, resulting in a 75 per cent increase in crop yields, over the present figures.
Mr. Clarke is confident of the capacity of this system to effectively solve the irrigation woes of persons like himself.
“My expectation is to get good water supply which can help me to increase my production. It will mean I can earn more and I can produce more, and I can also cut back on my gas system, and I feel this will save me a lot, and I will make more in the long run,” he tells JIS News.
Acting Project Director of the NIDP, Milton Henry, asserts that the initiative is a timely one, that will significantly improve the lives of existing farmers, and those who may soon become involved in the sector, as a result of the downturn in the bauxite industry, which was a major employer of persons from the areas.
“The farmers under this scheme have a tremendous opportunity to increase productivity and increase farm profits. We’ll be supporting their Water Users Association with an office, with training, with any other support that they need to go forward, and we’ll be providing joint management with them for whatever time it takes to ensure that they are able to take over the scheme properly and effectively run it themselves,” he says.
Mr. Henry emphasises that while it is important that the farmers be equipped with an efficient water supply in order to increase production, it is also necessary that they are able to access working capital. As such, running in tandem with the irrigation programme, is the Land Tenure Regularisation and Titling Programme, which is being facilitated by the Land Administration and Management Programme (LAMP) and the National Land Agency.
Under this programme, persons are being presented with the opportunity to have their lands properly demarcated and titled, allowing them to prove ownership, in order to procure funding from banks and other lending institutions, thereby increasing their income earning potential. Cadastral mapping of the land is being undertaken by Llewelyn Allen and Associates.
This aspect of the NIDP is being jointly funded by the Government of Jamaica and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) at a cost of US$2.57 million. Other NIPD projects are currently taking place across the island, including the Seven Rivers Irrigation scheme in St. James; expansion of the Beacon/Little Park project in Pedro Plains, St. Elizabeth; and the rehabilitation of the Hounslow Irrigation system, also in St. Elizabeth, which are being funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). Sixteen other projects have been selected by the IDB for capital injection.
Central to the successful implementation of the programme in the designated areas, is the mobilisation of the farmers into groups called Water Users Associations. These individuals will be trained in on-farm water management practices, operation and maintenance, agribusiness, budgeting and environmental issues, among other things. They will also be schooled in proper management and monitoring of the systems, in order to ensure that generations of farmers will benefit from the programme.