Jamaica — Agriculture and Lands Minister Dr Christopher Tufton on Thursdaymade good on a promise he made to farmers affected by bush fire in St Elizabethjust over a week ago, when he presented them with vegetable seeds and fertiliservalued at $2 million.
The minister also presented farmers with goats and advised them that atractor is being made available by his ministry to clear their lands scorched bythe fire.
Just under 90 farmers from several communities, including Ivor Cottage,Bigwoods, Retreat and Retirement, last week Tuesday lost roughly 64 hectares ofcrops, valued at $26 million, when bush fire swept through the farmingcommunities.
Sixty-four goats, valued at more than $200,000 also perished during the blaze.
The farmers allege that the fire, which took firefighters just under 12 hoursto be brought under control, had resulted from narcotics police burning a ganjafield in Bigwoods. Shortly after the fire, Tufton mandated the Rural Agricultural DevelopmentAuthority (RADA) to carry out an assessment of the damage and to present himwith a report within two days.
Last Thursday, Tufton, armed with the findings of the assessment, met withthe affected farmers at the Bigwoods Primary School and promised to provideassistance to them within one week, in an effort to get them back on their feet. He also told the farmers that the Police High Command has launched aninvestigation into the cause of the fire.
In making the presentation to the farmers at Bigwoods Primary on Thursday,Tufton who is also member of parliament for the area, stressed that theassistance should not be construed as compensation for damage done to theircrops.
“This is not compensation for the damage done to your crops. This is not assuming responsibility for the fire, because the truth is that theinvestigations are still being pursued. In fact, this morning (Thursday) I spoketo the commissioner of police and also the Black River police and theinformation I was given was that the investigations are going on nicely,”Tufton said.
He added that while he was not given a definite time with the investigationswill complete, he was hopeful that it will be concluded within another two weeks.
The agriculture minister also used the occasion to commend RADA for its rolein providing assistance to the farmers in such a “short time”.
“This is the type of RADA I want to see … working for and on behalf ofthe farmers, not just in St Elizabeth alone, but the entire county,” hesaid. ” RADA has to be quick to be able to respond to the needs of thefarmers and they must be efficient at it. And I believe that the RADA team in StElizabeth has done a great job over the past week, and is worth commending,”Tufton said.
Meanwhile, farmers attending the presentation thanked the agricultureminister for successfully making representation on their behalf.
“I would really like to thank the minister for his assistance in givingus the start in such a short time,” said Natalie Gordon, who lost more thanthree acres of crops during the fire.
She noted, however, that much more assistance will be needed to get theaffected farmers “fully back on their feet”.