PRESIDENT OF the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant wants the Government to do more to assist farmers affected by last month's onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, by way of low interest loans and a special refinancing package. In fact, he wants the preferential treatment offered to banana farmers extended to all farmers who lost crops as result of the natural disaster.
His appeal came during a post-Hurricane Sandy production summit hosted by the JAS following the monthly board meeting at its Church Street head office in downtown Kingston. Senator Grant's appeal was informed by the reports from commodity board leaders during the meeting which preceded the summit.
He said: "Our recommendation from the JAS is that the PC banks should extend the facility to the other farmers who were affected. So if they are coffee farmers, cocoa farmers, banana farmers, plantain farmers, cash crop farmers, they should also extend that facility."
The senator was referring to the $2 million in assistance announced by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, most of which targets the banana industry which suffered close to 90 per cent damage. While most of the aid will take the form of inputs such as inputs and service as well as small grants, government has also negotiated preferential loan rates with the People's Co-operative (PC) Bank.
However, while commending the Government for its speedy response, the JAS is not satisfied that proposed measures will be adequate to help farmers get back on their feet, and wants the PC Bank to reschedule existing loans in addition to providing refinancing to the farmers who lost their crops to Hurricane Sandy.
He made this impassioned plea at the summit: "The cash flow that they (farmers) would have generated from a crop to service the loan is gone. The 90 per cent of the banana is gone. The 25 per cent of the coffee is gone. The cash crops in St Thomas, Portland, St Mary, St Catherine, Clarendon and St Ann are gone and, therefore, we are asking the People's Co-operative Bank to provide a special window where they can reschedule and refinance these loans for affected farmers so we can go for growth."
Speaking on the topic 'Going for Recovery, Going for Growth', the JAS president, while acknowledging that farmers in eastern Jamaica bore the brunt of the devastation, also made a case for those in western Jamaica to be factored into the recovery-assistance package. Describing Government's intervention as a step in the right direction, he challenged stakeholders as well as agencies providing assistance to use the opportunity to unite and build the agriculture sector by extending the economy. He also charged farmers to begin the clean-up process even as they await the much-needed assistance.
While touching on the need for a comprehensive crop insurance to address the particular needs of different crops, Senator Grant also announced the establishment of the Jamaica Agriculture Society Disaster Relief Fund with First Global Bank, and asked that cash be lodged to account number 1-0-5-0-2-3-6. He, however, explained that the Society would be open to other donations as well.