No coffee to brew - Farmers say drought crisis putting business to sleep
Ongoing drought conditions and low wages are making life difficult for coffee farmers in Tower Hill and Mavis Bank in rural St Andrew, where residents say the precious beans are drying up on their stems.
“Anything to do with farming is rain and water, you know, and if you don’t have water, then you can’t see anything. The coffee tree them asleep, like them scorch, and without rain, we won’t get any success,” bemoaned Tower Hill coffee farmer Georgia Abrahams.
“Coffee, yam, banana, everything is just stagnant now. If you nuh have another little work, you can’t survive.”
She said that most residents rely on farming, and even more are struggling to meet back-to-school demands this year.
Last week, dust swirled on the narrow, rugged dirt track that leads to Tower Hill as Abrahams pointed to coffee tree after coffee tree that has been reduced to brittle sticks and quailing leaves.
Farmers in the area, she said, sell their coffee beans to nearby factories, but because of the ongoing drought and rising cost of living, the value of the product has decreased significantly – from $12,000 a bag to as low as $4,000 per bag – in the last two years.
“And rain is what you can’t pray for because when it start up here heavy, we neither have road, house, nothing. Everything wash away,” she said. “We want rain, yes, but if it fall massive, we can’t come out. The whole of dem place here in the road we have to get tractor.”
ONGOING DROUGHT WORSE THAN EXPECTED
Months ago, the Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology warned that worsening conditions could affect groundwater and large reservoirs and rivers in Jamaica, and the National Water Commission has reported that at least four of its water-supply systems have dried up in recent months because of the drought.
According to the Water Resources Authority (WRA), this year’s ongoing drought is worse than expected.
“While the WRA was not completely blindsided by this drought, the impact was greater than anticipated. In this regard, the current conditions will be accepted as what could be the new normal,” said Roshelle Archer-James, information officer at WRA.
“While the island groundwater reserves are within normal levels, we have noted significant declines in surface-water flow (rivers) in some of our major surface-water systems, which, previously, had higher flows for similar periods.”
She also noted that drought conditions could continue until October, barring a major weather phenomenon such as a hurricane.
“In the coming months, we, through collaboration with the Ministry of Economic, Growth and Job Creation, will launch an extensive public education campaign on water conservation and water-demand management to ensure Jamaicans are prepared,” Archer-James said, noting that some rivers have this year recorded their lowest flows since the ’70s.
FARMERS TO GET ALMOST $35 MILLION
Last month, J.C. Hutchinson, minister without portfolio in the agriculture ministry, announced that it would be providing almost $35 million to farmers to assist with immediate drought relief.
“The ministry will be providing urgently needed direct assistance to farmers of $15 million to assist with immediate relief while proper assessment is being done to determine further assistance or intervention,” he said in his sectoral presentation to the House of Representatives.
“A further $19.9 million is to be allocated via the members of parliament to provide further inputs to support our genuine farmers.”
His sentiments were welcomed by the Jamaica Agricultural Society, which noted the plight of farmers islandwide.
Such promises seem unreliable for the rural St Andrew farmers, however. Almost a month after the authorities delivered three water tanks to the area, they said they are still waiting for the tanks to be activated.
“It really rough up here. The drought a deal with we bad. Is plenty coffee tree just a dry up everywhere around the place because dem can’t get any water. Business a suffer bad,” said farmer Kenton Bennett.