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US$10 million irrigation system for St Elizabeth

Published:Saturday | April 16, 2016 | 4:00 AMJovan Johnson

After two consecutive years of farmers in St Elizabeth losing millions due to persistent droughts, the Government is moving to lessen the effects of future ones by constructing a $1.2 billion irrigation system in Essex Valley in the parish.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen made the announcement on Thursday while delivering the Throne Speech in Parliament. "Severe droughts of the last two years demand that we place greater emphasis on irrigation expansion," he said.

Construction work on the irrigation system will commence this year.

The Government will be pushing to make the south St Elizabeth areas into what Sir Patrick referred to as "one huge agro-economic zone". This is expected to be achieved through the expansion of the Hounslow irrigation system, road improvements, along with the Pedro Plain system.

Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), said the association was pleased with the Government's decision to construct an irrigation system in Essex Valley, but he said focus was also needed on farm roads across the country and not just in St Elizabeth.

"For two consecutive years, the sector (agriculture) has been affected by drought. Some 18, 000 farmers, and about a billion dollars (in losses were recorded in St Elizabeth). The JAS has always maintained that we continue to roll out the irrigation system. But it's just a start," Grant said.

But he said the Government needs to take a "strong look" at the farm road network in rural Jamaica. "This is extremely critical to the farmers, getting the inputs to the field and to the market," he said.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com