Current Dry Spell
As was predicted, this year we are again experiencing the effects of the phenomena of global warming and climate change. This continues to manifest itself not just in the lack of rainfall, but also in the forest and farm fires which have resulted from the current dry spell.
In light of this, I wish to express profound sympathies to the farmers, their families, and the communities which have already been directly affected and to those who anxiously monitor this clear and present threat to their livelihood.
Let me also commend them for their continued resilience and their commitment to the agricultural sector.
As has been indicated by the Met Services, we anticipate the breaking of the dry spell soon and, with God’s benevolence, we look forward to the relief of showers of rain.
It is to be noted that although the current dry spell cannot be described as a drought, it is beginning to affect farming and other communities islandwide as a result of the lack of rainfall.
As we speak, our team of officers from RADA are on the ground and we are closely monitoring the situation.
Impact on Blue Mountain belt
As you are aware, and as we have seen in the graphic media reports, the impact of the current dry spell and bush fires is now being felt in particular in the Blue Mountain belt of the island which is home to some of the prime coffee-producing areas.
As it relates to that area, including such communities as Mavis Bank, Flamstead, Content, etc., preliminary estimates indicate that to date some 500 acres of agricultural lands have been destroyed by fire, resulting in the loss of crops valued at $200m in total.
As it relates to coffee specifically, the Coffee Industry Board has advised that to date, some 120 hectares of coffee valued at $60 million have been destroyed.
Fortunately, as advised by the CIB, over 90 per cent of the current coffee crop was already reaped prior to the fires. Nonetheless, it is estimated that the loss over a three-year period will be some $100m and an additional $100m will be required to assist with the replanting programme.
As you can imagine, the situation at this time is dynamic and our officers are out in the field collecting information, monitoring the situation and providing assistance, even as we speak.
In response to the affected families, who have lost their homes and contents, the welfare services of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has provided immediate assistance in the form of bed, blankets, mattresses, food packages and other supplies. Compassionate grants are also being prepared. And we are prepared to meet the needs as they arise. The Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing has given its commitment to replace the houses.
Strategic Long-term Approaches
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, in keeping with the overall response to climate-change issues, has embarked on a number of long- term strategies to address the challenges associated with this phenomenon and to increase agricultural production in a sustainable way.
As we have outlined on previous occasions, these long-term strategies include:
- The formulation and implementation of the National Irrigation Development Plan
- The Climate Change Adaptation Programme
- The Agro-Park Programme
- And, by no means least, the Ministry has also allocated $30m to constituencies islandwide under the Production Incentive Programme.
In terms of the monitoring and recovery of the coffee sector, the Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with RADA and the other stakeholders, is working with the Coffee Industry Board to ensure the replanting of the coffee as soon as this is possible.
We have already identified the source for some 100, 000 seedlings for replanting in the Fall crop starting in September.
In addition, the Ministry will be assisting with the provision of some inputs to assist with the replanting programme, and our extension support team remains on full alert and on the ground to provide the necessary advice and extension services.
Given that the majority of our small farmers are located on marginal hillside lands, it is of paramount importance that we continue to implement and maintain the practice of climate-smart agriculture to include the construction of hillside ditches, trenches and stone and contour barriers.
I wish to also note the plans under the Navel String Tree Planting Initiative, as well as other tree planting programmes being spearheaded by the Forestry Department to replant trees across Jamaica.
As we go forward, it is important that we do not make a bad situation worse by being careless in the way we clear our lands. I am, therefore, making the strongest possible appeal to our farmers to desist from using burning as a means of clearing lands.
I am beseeching our farmers to resist the temptation to light fires. I urge you to speak to your RADA officers about alternative means of clearing lands.
I further appeal to the general citizenry to be more conscious about the impact that our burning practices can have on life, property and production. Desist, therefore, from indiscriminately throwing your cigarette butts, or lighting fires to get rid of your solid waste.
In closing, I wish to thank all the collaborating entities and first responders, including members of the JDF, the Fire Brigade, the Ministry of Local Government, and others who have joined us in this effort.
The fact is that climate change is here and is a present danger, so we will continue to work collaboratively in our multi-sectoral strategies to confront these challenges.
I thank you all.