Sun | Apr 30, 2017

Water plan in the works for cane farmers

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 6:00 AMChristopher Serju
Allan Rickards

A memorandum of understanding between the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) and the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association (AIJCFA) should provide a consistent source of affordable water for cane farmers, many of whom have lost millions of dollars because their crops have died in the field for lack of water.

"What we are aiming at is a shift in paradigm where we are not so much provider and user in terms of our relationship with NIC, but we are partners, so we can look at the use of water for irrigation in a spirit where we both jointly identify problems and sit and identify the solutions," Allan Rickards, chairman of the AIJCFA, told The Gleaner.

He said this would mean looking at irrigation in much more efficient ways - such as moving towards drip systems instead of the popular sprinkler system - as were used in the past.

Electricity costs

Rickards explained that 70 per cent of the cost of irrigation for cane farmers in Clarendon who have been particularly hard-hit by drought goes towards the electricity to pump it.

For this reason, the farmers have welcomed the development of a 10-megawatt capacity co-generation facility by Pan Caribbean at its Monymusk factory in Clarendon in anticipation that it will be able to supply all its internal needs and have excess to sell to the national grid. The AIJCFA has already begun talks with Pan Caribbean with a view to establishing a quid pro quo arrangement where farmers could enjoy reduced rates for irrigation as a result of the lower electricity costs.

"If we can work out a situation where the generating capacity in Pan Caribbean at Monymusk can bite significantly into the cost of irrigation by reducing significantly the cost of the power, then what we are talking about is being able to, in a shorter time, reactivate more of the idle wells," Rickards disclosed.

"This is one of the problems now. A lot of the wells need to be reactivated. At the same time, we need jointly to establish a task force to deal and interface with the police in terms of the vandalisation that continues to take place at the pumps by people who wish to ply a not very legal scrap trade."