Agriculture to recover from drought by 2016's second quarter - RADA head
Lenworth Fulton, chief executive officer of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), is urging farmers still reeling from last year's drought to hold strain as Government continues its assessment and assistance procedures.
Fulton told The Sunday Gleaner that preliminary estimates place the loss to the agricultural sector from the drought at some $8 billion, and so far Government has spent approximately $1 billion to assist farmers whose crops would have been significantly impacted.
"People have lost significantly; their whole tomato, Irish potato, yam, and even the drought-tolerant crops. Even last Christmas you wouldn't see the amount of gungo peas that you would want because the crop is definitely late," Fulton said during an interview at RADA's St Andrew head office.
He said vegetable, yam, and coconut farmers were among those most affected.
"Fish farmers suffered significantly also because the water was too hot for the fish to survive. These are some of the impacts that we never measured or thought of," said Fulton, noting that close to $1 billion in assistance has already been granted, "and more money will come".
Only poultry and pig farmers would have been spared the brunt of the drought impact as they relied on processed feed and could have transported water to the animals, he said. But cattle farmers, due to a lack of grazing grass, would have also suffered.
Fulton said the money was primarily spent on improving water storage and collection systems. These include the construction of 26 specially designed ponds capable of supplying a 6,000-foot greenhouse for 100 days; and the provision of about 1,500 of a promised 5,000 water tanks to farmers most affected by the drought conditions.
"We are not half there yet, to really stand up properly to a drought that we have gone through, but we have been working on mitigation methods," he said, adding that farmers have also been exposed to drought mitigation strategies and environmental best practices.
Fulton said last year's drought extended from January to about October, with the latter months from June being the hottest.
He said if the conditions for 2016 remain favourable, consumers can expect total restoration of the sector by the second quarter of this year.
Senator Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, welcomed the assistance from the Government, and also shared the call for patience as the assistance is being meted out by the Government.
"When you have drought that has affected our farmers as much as it has, you are going to have situations where some farmers still need help," Grant told The Sunday Gleaner.
"From where we sit at the Jamaica Agricultural Society, we would certainly like to see an expansion of these areas so that all of our farmers are covered and we can reduce the level of impact on the lives of farmers in future years," he said.
He emphasised the expansion of irrigation and rainwater harvesting systems, as well as agro-parks across the island.