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Farmers hit hard by St Catherine lockdown

Published:Monday | April 20, 2020 | 12:09 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

Farmers have been hit hard by the abrupt lockdown of St Catherine, which is set to run for at least another two days. Crops and livestock are at risk of perishing and losses potentially running into millions of dollars, if the situation is not corrected, said Lenworth Fulton, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS).

Fulton expressed the farmers’ full support for the fight against the COVID-19 virus, but thinks consultations with stakeholders, such as his organisation, could have prevented some of the fallout and economic hardships now unfolding.

“You have poultry, pigs, goats ... and apart from that, there are crops in the field drying up because there are farmers who would have sown seeds on Tuesday and you just lock them down suddenly. All of this will result in losses for our farmers, and it is so paradoxical that every time the authorities talk, they are exhorting farmers to provide food for the nation, which we had done and continue to do, under trying conditions.”

Fulton wants to see the farm stores opened for at least half day each day to facilitate legitimate farmers who can prove to the ground commander that they are livestock farms and so could be allowed to go and purchase feed for their animals.

“Crops in the field have to be sprayed – callaloo needs to be reaped every day, okra every other day, cucumber no longer than every three days, string bean every other day, and so these have to be now reaped and dumped because they have passed the edible stage. These are some of the factors that we have not taken into consideration,” the JAS president lamented.

“So I am appealing to the authorities that they revisit the situation, without in any way weakening the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which we support 100 per cent, but you must find a way to accommodate our farmers.”

The JAS president also took issue with the Government’s CARE Package, details of which were published in the press on Sunday, April 4, which he claims did not address agricultural issues in any substantive way.

No Additional Funds

For instance, the $240 million mentioned is in fact a redistribution of the allocation already in the Budget under the Production Incentive Programme being implemented by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, and so there is no new money coming for agriculture and it should not therefore be marketed as part of any new stimulus package. In addition, seasonal farm workers who are employed at harvest time to meet the increased demand by hotels for vegetables and other produce were excluded.

“So while the people who work in the hotels, some of them serving the food produced by these seasonal farmer workers were taken care of, the people who provided the food were left out in the cold,” Fulton argued.

Another bugbear for the JAS president is the mandatory use of a Tax Registration Number (TRN) for persons applying for the assistance under the Compassionate Care programme, as this excluded many farmers and seasonal farm workers.

He explained that many of these persons do not use a TRN in their daily transactions since it’s not required for buying farm tools, input or other supplies, nor is it required to pay property taxes, which many of them do.

“These are just some of the mishaps that happened and I will take it that its an oversight on the part of the authorities, and they need to reopen the Compassionate Care window, making allowance for other government-issued identification cards such as the Voter Registration card or driver’s licence.”