Sun | Feb 18, 2018

Jamaica moving to safe guard food security against climate change

Published:Friday | December 30, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Devon Watkis, assistant commissioner of police, and members of his team on a visit to the Coronation Market in Kingston recently.

The Jamaican Government is moving to safeguard the island's food security against the impact of climate change through the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) drip irrigation project.

Agricultural specialist with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, Vincent Thompson, says the project is an "aggressive approach" to minimising the debilitating effects of climate change on agriculture.

The REDI project is being implemented with World Bank funding totalling US$15 million, with on additional financing of US$2.5 million from the Government and through community contributions.

The project, which started in 2010 and ends in July 2017, aims to improve market access for micro and small-scale rural agricultural producers, as well as tourism product and service providers, through grants to support infrastructural development.

Thompson says despite Jamaica not experiencing extreme drought conditions this year, as prevailed in 2015 resulting in hiked food prices due to reduced outputs, the Government is endeavouring to be proactive in safeguarding the nation's food supply.

Thompson reports that phases one and two of the project, undertaken in 2014 and 2015, respectively, have positively impacted nearly 1,160 farmers in 13 communities.

Under the project, the farmers were provided with irrigation lines, drip kits, 1,000-gallon water storage tanks and harvesting implements.

They were also exposed to innovative farming techniques, food safety practices, business management, record-keeping and marketing strategies.

The beneficiaries, who are members of the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) Limited Water Users Association, were provided with water from NIC pumping stations, such as the facility in New Forest, Manchester, and guided on efficient irrigation methodologies.

Fertigation technique

Phase three will benefit 690 farmers in the south St Elizabeth communities where the fertigation technique was introduced to increase outputs.

Fertigation is the injection of fertilisers, soil additives and other water-soluble inputs into an irrigation system. This is then applied directly to the plant root for the optimal delivery of nutrients.

"The farmers used to apply the fertiliser on the surface of the soil which, often, the nitrogenic factor in the fertiliser is volatilised by sunlight. Now, they are able to apply liquid fertiliser through the drip lines. So now they can reduce the cost of production, because they are better able to utilise fertilisers using fertigation," Thompson stated.

He said drip irrigation has significantly increased crop yields where utilised.

"We have found that, overall, our farmers in south St Elizabeth [in particular] have been able to achieve up to [a] 60 per cent increase.

"With climate change, no one can predict when we are going to have drought, heavy rainfall or flooding. By providing the farmers with drip irrigation equipment during the dry season, they are better able to plan their production so we don't have any shortages. [As a result], we [hope to] have a consistent supply of produce from here onwards," he told the Jamaica Information Service.

Thompson points out that a key advantage of drip irrigation is that farmers now have greater control of production.

"We can mitigate against the effects of climate change, especially when we are going through a dry spell. We are actually changing the way in which farmers cultivate," he added.