There's no food crisis - Kellier
Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
Consumers are being assured that there is no need to panic, as despite islandwide reports of a pending food shortage because of the prolonged drought, the Government is insisting that depressed agricultural production has not reached crisis levels.
"While the situation is serious, it is not catastrophic," said Derrick Kellier, acting minister of agriculture and fisheries. "We will not allow the sensational[ists] and the opportunists to use the current situation to jack up prices."
He, therefore, urged consumers to refuse to purchase goods at unreasonably high prices, while using their creative skills to substitute other foods for ground produce that were in low supply.
"We want the consumers to know there is no shortage at this time and they are to exercise the power that they have. They cannot allow themselves to be exploited by persons who are price gouging. If the consumers refuse to purchase the goods at the high prices, then the prices will come down," said Kellier.
"The Government doesn't have price restrictions, so we can't dictate, but the consumer has the power to say we are not purchasing that for, say, $200 per pound, when it was $80 per pound a few weeks ago, because there is no shortage."
Speaking yesterday at a media briefing to give an update on the impact of the drought on the agriculture sector, he said 16,398 farmers were estimated to have suffered losses from drought and fires.
He noted that in excess of 1,600 hectares of crop, including pastures, valued at more than $900 million, have been lost or damaged. Losses are projected to continue in all parishes.
The minister pointed out, however, that this was just a fraction of the agriculture sector, as according to data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the total area of land under production across the island was approximately 200,000 hectares. Last year, the value of the primary output was $146 billion.
Kellier, who is sitting in for Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, who is out of office because of an illness, said there were areas in the island, particularly in northern parishes, where agriculture production was "going on quite well", and he urged farmers in those areas to ramp up yields to lessen any shortfall.
ADEQUATE FOOD SUPPLIES
"We are of the firm view that the supplies that we have will last, so we are not looking at imports right now. If we get the areas that have rainfall in the country to ramp up their production, we will be able to ride it out. We don't expect this drought to last forever. None of us would survive if it did," he stated.
The Government has taken some immediate steps to help mitigate the impact of the drought and to increase the sustainability of the agriculture sector.
Among the measures being implemented is the allocation of $30 million to the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) to increase production in the areas with sufficient access to water. Members of parliament are also being asked to formulate programmes to save crops and livestock in the areas worst affected.
Kellier said a further $3 million has been transferred to RADA to assist farmers affected by fire-related losses. He said the agriculture ministry was also formulating a public-education programme to promote responsible land-clearing practices.
"I am making the strongest possible appeal to our farmers to desist from using burning as a means of clearing lands. We have seen the devastating impact of these fires getting out of control. Already, we have lost one farmer in St Elizabeth, apart from millions of dollars in crop," the minister beseeched.
The following are among a comprehensive slew of measures to increase agriculture production in a sustainable way.
$30 million to increase production in non-affected areas.
MPs to formulate plans to save crops and livestock in worst-affected areas.
$3 million to assist farmers affected by fires.
Public education to promote responsible land-clearing practices.
Formulation and implementation of National Irrigation Development Plan.
Continuation of the Agro Park Programme.
Continuation of the Dairy Sector Revitalisation Programme.
Implementation of the Adaptation Fund Programme.
Continuation of the Sugar Transformation Programme.