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Published:Friday | July 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 Dry spell threatens to cripple coffee industry

Coffee farmers have said they are facing the prospect of significant losses from the ongoing drought in an already challenging industry, which is just recovering from the leaf rust disease, which, up to 2012, threatened the viability of the sector.

The authorities have projected that St Thomas and Portland, which are part of a trio of parishes that make up the Blue Mountain coffee region, are at greater risk for extreme drought.

Immediate past president of the Jamaica Coffee Growers' Association Derrick Simon said the effects of the drought would be deeply felt because of the lack of irrigation systems. He said previously, coffee farmers could have have relied on rainfall in the absence of an irrigation system, but this is now being affected by climate change.

He said production figures would be low when they are released at the end of the 2013-2014 crop year on July 31.

Blue Mountain coffee farmers account for two-thirds of Jamaica's coffee production.

Agriculture ministry announces $30m drought-mitigation programme

The agriculture ministry is rejecting claims that it has been slow to respond to the drought conditions wreaking havoc on farmers.

It has announced a $30-million mitigation programme to start next week. Permanent Secretary Donovan Stanberry said consultations were under way with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority in relation to the structure of the mitigation programme. The announcement was made yesterday at the 119th Jamaica Agricultural Society's Annual General Meeting held on the Denbigh Showground in Clarendon.

Stanberry said the ministry had been quietly making interventions, but there was now greater public focus on the sector because of the severity of the drought.

Last week, a massive fire burnt about 600 acres of farmlands in Malvern, St Elizabeth.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, Senator Norman Grant, said there is no need to be concerned that the drought would affect the upcoming Denbigh Agricultural Show. He said steps were being taken to ensure that there is enough water to carry out the activities scheduled for the August 1-3 event.

JPS to disconnect delinquent gov't accounts

Kelly Tomblin, the president and chief executive officer of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), is following through on her threat to take tough action against the Government, which owes the company billions in unpaid bills.

Yesterday, Local Government Minister Noel Arscott said the Government had been working with the company to pay down the debt.

However, Tomblin said she had already written to Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, informing him of her decision to disconnect some delinquent government accounts.

Tomblin was speaking in an interview on Wednesday on 'Nationwide at 5'.

Meanwhile, she has responded to claims by the Government that 20 per cent of street lights were not working despite the JPS charging a flat fee for the service. Tomblin said the company was working to address the concerns.