Jamaica — With the agricultural sector so vulnerable to natural disasters, a National Agricultural Disaster Risk Management Programme, was launched recently, to establish a structure and mechanisms to adequately prepare the industry for such eventualities.
Senior Director, Division of Technology, Training and Technical Information at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Philip Chung, explains that the programme has several components.
“These include public awareness; and preparation of a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan, which include training and research collaboration, communication, disaster mitigation and several other aspects of disaster management,” he explains.
“Through public awareness, what we are doing is preparing some information products. So far, we have prepared information leaflets for about 10 different areas within the sub sector. We are looking at things like short term crops; we are looking at things like coffee, sugar cane, livestock, aquaculture and pesticides,” he adds.
Currently, the information brochures focus on hurricane risk management, but other issues will be looked at, such as pest management, bushfires and droughts. Other aspects of the public awareness programme include interviews with the media and training programmes for farmers.
Mr. Chung tells JIS News, that over the years, natural disasters have resulted in major losses in the agricultural sector.
“It shows how vulnerable agriculture is to natural disasters, such as hurricanes; agriculture will suffer the most from droughts as well, bushfires and pest outbreaks,” he adds.
“Because of the widespread nature of these natural disasters, it is important that members of the agricultural sector work together in addressing the whole issue of how you prepare yourself for the disaster and how you deal with the disasters when they come. So, the plan is very critical in this case,” the Senior Director says.
The National Agricultural Disaster Risk Management Programme, which was initiated in May 2008, is primarily concerned with sensitising sector stake holders and the general populace, on the importance of making adequate preparations to minimise the damage caused by natural and other disasters, and measures to speedily rebound from the resultant damage.
It will also seek to ensure the timely dissemination of information to the media, and initiate programmes to train farmers in disaster mitigation. Additionally, it will spearhead plans for the establishment of emergency operation centres.
If a hurricane should strike this year, Mr. Chung says the RADA parish offices are all sensitised as to what needs to be done.
“The systems will not be in place, so we do expect that there will be some gaps to be filled, but it will definitely be an improvement over previous hurricanes. Information would be fed up to the headquarters and we would be able to analyse the information and come up with decisions as to how we go about managing the whole thing,” he points out.
On the training component of the programme, Mr. Chung explains that RADA works closely with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), in carrying out this objective.
“They are the ones who are the specialist in disaster management and they assist us in all we are doing, in our programme and the development of our plan. I must add that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has agreed to assist us in getting a consultant, who will develop a national agricultural disaster risk management preparedness plan for Jamaica and that should begin any time soon,” the Senior Director says.
“In addition, the ODPEM assists us to be familiar with what disaster risk management entails and we are supposed to have some training sessions with them for a national emergency operation centre, which will operate out of the Ministry of Agriculture,” he notes.
Mitigation Programme Officer at the ODPEM, Karema Aikens Mitchell, explains that so far, the organisation has been assisting the Ministry of Agriculture in developing its level of preparedness and response to disasters.
“So far, we have been looking at what we can do in the short term to sensitise and to build awareness among farmers. We have looked at some preparedness brochures, easy to use and convenient. Persons can refer to them for preparedness tips,” Mrs. Aikens Mitchell says.
“Including in that, we have a longer term vision for preparing an overarching plan for the agricultural sector, that is a preparedness and response plan, and also have sub sectors prepare their own plan, which would feed directly into this,” she adds.
Mrs. Aikens Mitchell explains that when this is done, issues such as damage assessment, are dealt with efficiently. She also notes that the agricultural sector is one of the sectors that need “serious intervention.”
“When we looked at the damage estimates coming out of Hurricanes Dean and Ivan and all the cases before, we decided that now is the time to intervene, so that overall, we can have a reduction in the impact on that sector,” she tells JIS News.
In terms of offering disaster mitigation advice to farmers, Mr. Chung urges them not to build animal houses in a flood prone area, as this will lead to the death of the animals.
He also encourages them to plant along the contours when engaged in slope farming, and to use tree crops to protect the slopes, so that when the hurricanes come, they can prevent some of the landslides.
The Programme will be managed by a special Disaster Management Committee, comprising representatives from ODPEM, the army, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), agricultural input providers, the Fisheries Division, the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), and other interest groups.