Wed | Jul 8, 2020

Prickly Pole farmers left high and dry in drought

Published:Wednesday | May 27, 2020 | 12:25 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Lucille Grace Thomas of Prickly Pole, St Ann, shows the devastating effect of drought on her cabbage crop she planted recently.
Lucille Grace Thomas of Prickly Pole, St Ann, shows the devastating effect of drought on her cabbage crop she planted recently.

CABBAGE FARMERS in Prickly Pole, a hillside community in southern St Ann, have lambasted the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) for failing to provide crucial inputs such as irrigation, dooming their crops to be victim to prolonged drought.

Lucille Grace Thomas, who, along with her daughter and son, tends to several acres of farmland dedicated to the cultivation of cabbage, string beans and kale, is expressing frustration at what she describes as a lack of interest from the local RADA office in the parish.

“Look at that field over there; it is dried up and we not even cut a single head a cabbage from there. We have no water,” said Thomas, while directing the Gleaner news team to examine her cabbage patch.

“We cannot even call it an investment, because it’s more than that. It is our lives and our livelihood that we are losing every day to the drought.”

More and more women in the hinterlands are getting involved with the back-breaking work that characterises Jamaican farming. Thomas said it was all she was interested in doing as nothing else was available.

As she clutched several rotting cabbage heads, they told a tale of parched fortunes.

Clive Dawkins, who has been a farmer since high school and tends to cabbage and sweet pepper, was more philosophical. He said having spent hours in the sun preparing the soil, planting, and then watching his crops die was like “buying a brand new car, then wake up the next day to realise it’s been stolen”.

“I wish we could get some help with water. Things dry here. We not getting any rain, but in spite of that, we have to keep going,” he said.

Joel Phillipots and his friend, Richard Dawkins, were seen packing a number of crocus bags with very small heads of cabbage. They were heading to Coronation Market in Kingston where they hoped to fetch sales of $100 per pound.

But the searing heat has stunted the growth of many crops, with some nothing more than fodder for worms.

Those ruined yields, he said, would be used as feedstock for rabbits and pigs.

Responding to the residents’ despair, acting RADA Parish Manager Sheldon Scott said that the community is served by two of the agency’s officers, arguing that the community has benefited from drought-mitigation measures.

“In terms of assistance, I know personally that there are farmers in that community who have benefited from some of the programmes we have going, such as the Irish potato programme that’s just been completed, and in addition, some farmers got sweet yam and others received chemicals. I have documented evidence,” Scott said.

“So for them to say they have received no support would be disingenuous, at the least, even though there would be some people who may have not gotten anything in recent times,” he said.

There are approximately 20,000 farmers across St Ann.

Scott conceded that the subventions the St Ann RADA office receives may not be enough to serve every farmer.

“Under the Drought Management Programme, farmers are given drums for the storage of water, drip hoses, and seeds to plant for those who may have lost their crop to the drought, as a restart. It is an ongoing programme but additional funds are needed,” Scott said.