Mr. Speaker, you will recall that I addressed this Honourable House last week on the current dry spell and its impact on the agricultural sector. We have since, thankfully, got a little sprinkling, but we are by no means letting down our guards. In fact, the Government of Jamaica and, in particular, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, has been taking the issue of climate change seriously and has adopted a proactive approach to the reality of persistent droughts.
Mr. Speaker, it is this proactiveness and vision that have inspired our Agro-Parks Programme, under which we have been installing irrigation systems to ensure sustainable production. I am happy to report to this Honourable House that by July of this year we would have completed a $300m irrigation scheme in the Spring Plain/Ebony Park Agro-Park, which will bring all 3,000 acres fully under production. We are already seeing the transformational impact of new irrigation schemes in the dry areas of Yallahs and New Forest/Duff House, where we are having bumper production even in the dry season, thanks to new irrigation schemes. Proper irrigation system will be a standard feature of all agro-parks that will become operational in the future.
Mr. Speaker, we are aware that we must also address the needs of our farmers outside the agro-parks. As a Government, we have been addressing small-scale irrigation needs of our farmers across Jamaica. Under the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) Project, funded by JSIF, nearly $30 million has been invested in procuring and installing drip irrigation systems for farmers in Colbeck, Hounslow, Beacon Little Park, New Forest/Duff House and Yallahs. Some 225 half-acre drip irrigation kits with fittings have been provided to farmers. These farmers have also been provided with 1,000 gallon storage tanks.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to report that another 190 such kits will be provided by the REDI project by the end of this month. An additional $14.4 million is being spent by REDI to implement drip irrigation and fertigation systems at Braco and Plantain Garden Rivers, on some 30 acres of land.
I am happy to report today that in addition to the above initiatives under the REDI programme, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through RADA, will be spending this week some $10 million to provide nearly 300 650-gallon tanks to farmers in our most affects areas, that is in the southern belt of the country. This $10 million will also facilitate trucking of water to farmers – over 400 loads. This will complement the over $30 million that we have allocated earlier this year to provide inputs to farmers islandwide, under our Production Incentive Programme.
Mr. Speaker, a meteorological drought has not yet been declared and we have started to see a little rain. We all pray for more rains, but while we pray, we are ensuring through these initiatives, that crops on the ground can be safeguarded. Despite the dry conditions, the domestic food crop sector grew by 2.7 per cent last quarter, and we are doing all in our power to ensure that this growth momentum is sustained. In the meanwhile, I am imploring all our farmers to resist the temptation to use slash and burning methods for land clearing and employ the necessary agronomic practices that conserve moisture in the soil.
May 19, 2015