JAMAICA — It was another rough year for agriculture as the sector again suffered a decline due to the severe effects of hurricanes, drought and floods which destroyed acres of agricultural lands.
These farmers show a heap of tomatoes they managed to save from the raging bush fire that razed over 100 acres of farm land in Tryall and surrounding districts in St. Elizabeth.
Banana trees on a plantation in Seaforth, St.Thomas damaged by Hurricane Dennis in July last year.
This is after an equally difficult year in 2004 when Hurricanes Charley and Ivan did more than $6 billion in damage to the sector, resulting in a shortage of produce across the island.
Senator Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), described the past year as “one of the most challenging for the nation’s farmers in well over a decade”. He said that “when we consider the number of disasters that affected the country over the last 12 months it has had devastating impact on a sector which is of fundamental importance to the sustained economic development of Jamaica”.
Said Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke: “We have suffered so much. We have had back-to-back hurricanes. We have had this year probably one of the sharpest droughts that we have had in modern times, almost the entire Jamaica was on fire at a particular time. We had floods and even as we speak there are some areas still under water.” He noted that there were some areas that were presently being affected by droughts, adding that the vagaries of the weather affected the sector significantly.
But natural disasters were not the only problems that affected agriculture last year. Changes in international trading policies, mainly in the European Union which ended a decades-long preferential pricing arrangement with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and significantly cut the price it paid for sugar and banana from these countries now threaten the survival of sugar and banana.
The inability of the roughly 10,000 coffee farmers to collect more than US$3 million in insurance claims for damage suffered during Hurricane Ivan placed the coffee industry in a state of uncertainty. Many coffee farmers have been unable to rehabilitate and replant their farms as a result, causing a decline in production. This after the farmers’ insurers, Dyoll Insurance Company went bankrupt.
Cocoa production suffered significantly too as the hurricanes and floods wreaked havoc on farms. Naburn Nelson, secretary manager of the Cocoa Industry Board, said the decline in production will cause the country to miss the 1,500-ton export quota by about 800 tonnes.
In addition to the hurricanes and changes in international trading policies, the banana sector was seriously affected by the Moko disease mainly in the western section of the island. Several banana farms were destroyed in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly disease.
A new study by the Jamaica Livestock Association (JLA), the findings of which were revealed last year, showed that the cattle sector has been on a steady course of decline, having declined by an alarming 50 per cent since 1990.
The lack of a properly integrated marketing system also posed problems for the sector. Albert Shand, executive director of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), said that farmers continued to experience problems with the marketing of agricultural produce. This, coupled with the lack of adequate processing facilities, resulted in a large quantity of produce being spoiled. “We still have an infrastructure that is not adequate to support a proper agricultural development,” Mr. Shand said.
RESUSCITATE AND REVIVE
Agricultural exports also suffered. Information from the Export Division of the Ministry of Agriculture indicated that exports fell more than 20 per cent.
Despite the difficulties the agricultural sector also made headway in several areas.
Some farmers were able to resuscitate and revive their farms to stabilise production. A number of farmers were able to improve production with the introduction of improved farming techniques with the use of greenhouse technology, introduction of new plant varieties and animal breeds, development of an integrated pest management system, a computerised farmer registration system (ABIS) and increased use of drip irrigation.
The passage of the Praedial Larceny Act by Parliament last year significantly boosted efforts to address the problem which is estimated to cost the sector $4 billion annually. The Ministry of Agriculture is now in the process of printing 100,000 receipt books for distribution to farmers.