As you are aware, Jamaica has been facing drought conditions for the past 3-4 months. We have been seeing the effects of this both on the ground and in the media. We have witnessed not only the impact of the loss due to the lack of rainfall but also the forest and farm fires which have resulted from the devastating drought. Although there has been rainfall in some of the western parishes, this drought has in fact affected the entire island. It has been very severe in the southern parishes, encompassing the breadbasket region of Manchester and St. Elizabeth.
This region accounts for approximately 40% of our domestic agriculture production. In addition, parishes such as Clarendon, Portland, St. Thomas and St. Mary, which are also significant producers of crops, have also been affected.
It is against this background that we have invited you here today to this briefing to provide an update on the impact of the drought on this sector. This briefing is also intended to provide information on the mitigating strategies being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in response to the drought and to look at the way forward. We will also provide, as far as possible, projections for the July to September quarter.
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.
Impact of the Drought
RADA’s latest detailed assessment of the drought indicates that in excess of 1,600 hectares valued at just under $900M has been lost or damaged due to drought and fires. As we speak, damage continues in all parishes and this estimate is rising and is likely to continue increasing. A total of 16,398 farmers are estimated to have suffered losses to date.
Naturally, the entire Jamaica is anxious about the impact of the drought, particularly in relation to the availability of domestic food supplies.
We in the Ministry are equally concerned not only about food supply but the possibility of the sector’s growth momentum being reversed, if the drought persists.
We, however, need to put things into perspective and we therefore should not subscribe to any form of sensationalism. While the situation is serious, it is not catastrophic while 1,600 hectares of crops, including pastures, valued at over $900M has been destroyed, the total area of arable lands under production in this country is approximately 200,000 hectares and last year the value of primary output was $146B according to STATIN.
So, whilst we recognise the severity we must place the situation in the correct context.
Strategic Long-term Approaches
Ladies and gentlemen, the truth of the matter is that this Ministry has been systematically putting in place a comprehensive slew of measures to increase agricultural production in a sustainable way. As bad as the current drought is, the situation would have been considerably worse if these measures had not been implemented. I speak to:-
- The formulation and implementation of the National Irrigation Development Plan, under which over the last eight years we have constructed seven new irrigation systems at a cost of over $5 billion, including the Yallahs, and the New Forrest/Duff House irrigation systems opened within the last 18 months. In fact, I have had the privilege of last Thursday seeing first-hand the transformational impact of the Yallahs system on production and productivity. That area is literally like an oasis in an otherwise dry desert. Further, the levels of production in the New Forrest/Duff House area have been sufficient to cause an increase in overall domestic food crop production in Manchester for the April-June quarter despite the drought.
- The Agro-Park programme – the rationale of this programme is to create sustainable farming systems to ensure consistently high production and productivity levels. This is why we have sequestered some 8,000 acres of Government land and we are spending over $1B to install the requisite infrastructure. In the short time since the roll out of the parks we are beginning to see results. Through the agro-parks some 381 tonnes of domestic crops as well as 8 tonnes of fresh water fish have been produced during the first quarter of 2014. We expect that by the time we would have completed the infrastructure the output from the agro-parks will have been significantly multiplied.
- In response to this annually recurring problem the Ministry, through the Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB), in 2013 put in place measures to mitigate drought conditions under the Dairy Sector Revitalization Programme. Under this programme fodder banks were created for small farmers in the most vulnerable areas. The Research and Development Division of the Ministry has also benefited from a fodder conservation project of 50 acres financed by the JDDB to the tune of $24M. together with the small farmers, over 120 acres of hay is under production.
This intervention has been bearing fruit and has been in fact serving as a planned drought mitigation strategy. It exemplifies the kind of best practices to which we are committed.
We are also working with two clusters of dairy farmers in Clarendon and St. Elizabeth to establish new fodder banks so that next year the situation will be further improved. Local milk production for the period January to June 2014 was 6.41 million litres, approximately 300,000 litres above the same period last year.
This increase is directly linked to the creation of the fodder banks and the hay production programme which has resulted in a crisis being averted in the dairy sector. And, we can in fact report that the impact of the drought is not as dramatic as it was in the previous year.
- It is to be noted, further, that as part of this Ministry’s overall strategic plan several initiatives have been undertaken to promote the resilience of the agricultural sector. One of these programmes is the Government of Jamaica’s Adaptation Fund Programme which directly targets the impact of climate change and provides mitigating activities to adapt to climate change. These include the setting up of rainwater harvesting systems, training in climate smart agriculture, proper water and land management and promoting more efficient use of water through drip irrigation systems. Just under $300M is available for implementing these adaptation strategies in targeted communities to include 14 small-scale drip irrigation systems and two water harvesting systems which have been rehabilitated.
- Under the Sugar Transformation Programme over the last six years the Cane Expansion Fund has been providing grants and subsidized loans at five percent for the expansion of sugar cane production using drip irrigation. This method of irrigation not only conserves water but has a massive impact on cane productivity. Under this programme we have so far facilitated some 700 hectares of drip irrigation.
Notwithstanding the above long-term strategic approaches to mitigate drought and increase the sustainability of the sector, we still have to deal with the immediate problem. Our immediate response to the current drought is as follows:
- Allocation to RADA of $30M to increase production in those areas with sufficient access to water to counter the possible shortfalls in production from the more affected areas.
- We have also invited all Members of Parliament to formulate programmes to save crops and livestock that are being stressed by the drought conditions, for example, the trucking of water to farmers.
- A further $3M has been transferred to RADA to assist farmers affected by losses due to fires.
The money is in the account of RADA and, as we speak, is being disbursed consistent with the programmes developed by the parishes.
- The Ministry is also formulating a public education programme to promote responsible land clearing practices, especially during this drought period. We are collaborating in this effort with the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and NGO’s.
Ladies and gentlemen, what of the supply situation? Let me start by saying categorically that there is no need for the kind of hysteria being perpetuated by such headlines as “Drought crisis: Food shortage looms”, “Everything will soon be non-existent – farmers”, “We will have nothing by December”.
Let me assure the nation that as far as our staples – tubers, bananas, plantains, the country has enough supplies. Bananas have made a significant comeback and are widely available. Some 4.7 million pounds of Irish Potatoes from local production is currently in storage. We are projecting to reap another 50,000 lbs from the current crop. This is sufficient to satisfy demand for the next two months. It is traditional that towards the end of the year we import minimal quantities until the reaping of the Fall crop begins in December.
Obviously, vegetables will be more susceptible to the impact of the drought and our own projection is that we will see about a 20% fall off in production for the July- September quarter. Fortuitously, this happens to coincide with the low demand period in the hotel industry, which is a major consumer of these products. It is also the case that some of the traditional sources from which we would normally import these items are also having their own challenges.
Within this context, we are encouraging and incentivising our farmers supplied by our irrigation systems and in areas with adequate rainfall and other water resources to ramp up vegetable production. At the same time we are prepared to consider facilitation of some imports as warranted.
I am urging Jamaica not to panic as this Government will ensure that through our own production and judicious imports we have adequate supplies of food. We will not allow the sensational and the opportunists among us to use the current situation as a cloak to jack up prices. Obviously the dynamic nature of the situation will require continuous monitoring and review and the Ministry will make every possible effort to ensure that the nation’s food supply is not compromised nor the growth momentum in this vital sector reversed.
In the meantime, we encourage consumers to continue to use their skills and creativity to meet the challenges that we all currently face as a result of the drought. We thank our farmers for their continued resilience and we urge them to remain vigilant and steadfast, as we all will do through this difficult period.
We all agree that we are facing trying times. We need 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 know you are anxious to clear your lands in order to get on with the business of production. We have however seen the devastating impact of these fires getting out of control. Already we have lost one farmer in St. Elizabeth, apart from millions of dollars in crop. I am beseeching our farmers to resist the temptation to light fires. 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.
Thank you all.