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St Elizabeth farmer laments impact of global warming

Published:Monday | June 29, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
This melon field shows all the signs of the current drought that has hit farmers in Flagaman, St Elizabeth.

LONG DESCRIBED as Jamaica's breadbasket because of its major contribution to the island's overall agricultural production over the years, St Elizabeth is experiencing winds of change, literally, that are seriously threatening the continued viability of farming.

"Global warming is affecting the farming community, and even though we are on irrigation systems we still can't plan because there are other issues that can arise, because there is also a problem with the wind," farmer Edith Chedda told The Gleaner recently.

She went on to explain: "We could anticipate winds in March, just about spring, in March, April; but now the wind come up anytime throughout the year, and it dries out the soil. Wind is good when you have certain types of crops getting to maturity - like some of the melons, they don't mind a little bit of breeze, especially if you had a heavy shower of rain, and it helps to dry up some of the excess moisture.

"So that wind is good, but the wind that we had around November, December, was horrible because we thought we were getting a nice crop of melon, but the next thing you know everything wring up and blow away, all little blossoms blow off. I usually plant sweet corns and it just tear up the leaves; and it's like hurricane wind and this is happening outside of the regular March, April wind."

 

the greenhouse

 

Chedda, who has been involved in family farming operation over the past 15 years, cultivating sweet potato, pumpkin and melon mainly, as well as some cattle rearing, has, in recent years, gone into greenhouse farming to offset the losses from the open-field operation. The results have not been what she anticipated.

"The wind has affected the greenhouse as well because it blows the plastic and tears it up, and you can't replace it because it's expensive. So right now, at one of my greenhouses, the mesh is hanging lower than it should because the breeze pulls off the guttering ... and then if you are having heavy wind, too, because of the type of mesh, it can blow through and affect the plants that are on the edge, in the direction that the wind is blowing," she pointed out.

The drying effect of the wind on the soil is compounded by the drought which has prompted further investments in irrigation to water the pastures, but, again, this is a major gamble, according to the farmer.

"We are at sea level so the heat is on, and the men can only work early morning, so you find that at 5 o'clock the people going out to work and by 9 o'clock they have to leave. Time is so hot, they can't work in this heat. And the cattle haffi just find a little shade, and soon after this, we have to go start cut grass and take it to them because they don't have anything to eat. We have to be using more water now and the water is not cheap, and at the same time we don't get water every day. Although we are on the water supply system, we only get water every other day. Now, at some time, NIC (National Irrigation Commission) could change from giving us every other day and giving us a two-day break because they are not getting rainfall and the source is drying up too," the farmer noted.

Pressed as to why she has continued in farming despite the many problems, Chedda said: "I don't know. I keep asking myself that question, but you win sometimes and you lose sometimes."