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Climate change driving policy decisions at agri ministry

Published:Friday | May 8, 2015 | 5:00 AMChristopher Serju
One of several banana farms in St Thomas destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

The devastating impact of climate change is influencing policy decisions in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which has begun to put in place vitally necessary adaptation and mitigation measures.

Permanent Secretary Donovan Stanberry told a Gleaner Editors' Forum yesterday that the accumulated economic cost on crop production by the impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters which have affected the island since 2002 was about $120 billion. This estimate was based on crops destroyed and the level of production that was forgone at the point of devastation by the weather systems.

"When we don't have the hurricanes, the droughts are becoming almost a regular feature," he lamented, adding that the lessons learnt from these disasters were being practically incorporated in policy decisions.

In recognition of the long time it takes for livestock and crop production to rebound effectively from drought, he singled out the banana industry.

"Banana has been consistently devastated in the east, so we are actively trying to bring back banana in the west because, fortuitously, over the past couple of years, we have not had a hurricane with the span that takes down both east and west at the same time, and that is now part of the strategy," he disclosed.

 

NEED TO IMPROVE IRRIGATION SYSTEMS

 

The permanent secretary also explained that longer and harsher drought periods had made it clear that the continued dependence on rainwater-fed agriculture was impractical, bringing into sharper focus the need for greater management of that all-important resource - water.

"We have to put in irrigation systems, not the old ones where you flood, but systems that use water in very, very efficient and economical ways, and that's why we are trying to promote drip and that kind of thing."

Stanberry admitted that this process was being hindered by the inability of small farmers to access funding to put in the requisite drip-irrigation systems to effectively improve production and productivity. However, he pointed to the success stories which had been achieved in this area under the Government of Jamaica/Adaptation Fund Programme.

He told the Gleaner Editors' Forum: "This project, for instance, has actually been assisting farmers with these facilities and teaching them the technology - the water-management systems and techniques - and we have seen marvellous results. You start them off on a little plot, [and] they grow and they see the difference in productivity and the yields. And from what they reap and sell, they are able to expand the systems on their own. So there is a sustainability element."

 

UNFAIR CRITICISM

 

Stanberry was quick to dismiss as "unfair" the criticism that his ministry had been slow off the mark in recognising and reacting to the realities of climate change, insisting that it is an issue that had been given primacy in the ministry's policy deliberations for more than a decade.

He explained: "We now do serious research in varieties of crops that are more resistant [to harsh weather conditions]. Of course, you started the research 10 to 15 years ago, [but] the results are only coming out now and so it would give the impression that you not doing much.

"In the area of livestock, we are experimenting with different grasses over the last couple of years and promoting what we call fodder banks because when the dry season hits - January, February, March - if you don't have that kind of fodder bank, then cows will literally drop dead because there is nothing to eat," Stanberry declared.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com