Business

Gov't looking at mother farm concept

Climate change equires a radical shift in strategy

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserve.com

Wednesday, January 24, 2018



Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF), Karl Samuda, says government is reviewing use of the mother and satellite farming methods to protect local agriculture from vulnerability to natural disasters, after a projected four per cent decline last year.

In a statement in the House of Representatives yesterday, in which he confirmed the decline for fiscal 2017/18, Samuda suggested that the domination of the sector by small players with small plots of land and no insurance would have to end.

He said recent events in the agricultural sector, primarily the effect of frequent floods, have focused his ministry's attention on exploring a new strategy for agricultural development.

“This new agriculture requires bigger players working in concert with the smaller players, to infuse agriculture with the new technology, to champion protective agriculture and perfect the mother farm and satellite farm concept which have done so well for others,” Samuda said.

He stated that 2017 was a “challenging but exciting year” for the agricultural sector, following 13.5 per cent growth in the sector in 2016.

“We were greeted in early 2017 by persistent drought conditions resulting in a 3.7 per cent decline in the first quarter,” he noted.

“Of course, as is well known, from April to the end of the year we have had almost continuous rains, with flooding events in May/June. The continuous nature of the rains resulted in the second, third and fourth quarter declining. Preliminary estimates indicate that we will have a decrease for the sector of about four per cent. From June to October alone, last year, direct crop and livestock losses amounted to over $300 million,” he stated.

Samuda said the weather not only caused losses in crops and livestock, but its continuous nature inhibited efforts at restoration such as ploughing and land preparation and planting of certain crops.

He said at the same time the weather significantly impacted the latter part of the sugar cane harvest and militated against indicators of factory efficiency and the quality of the cane.

“As if the weather was not enough, we have also had to battle with the impact of pests and diseases, notably the beet army worm outbreak and the cocoa frosty pod, which has now spread from Clarendon to cover almost all of St Mary and parts of St Catherine. Given the profile of our sector, agriculture is indeed risky business,” he pointed out.

“This sector is dominated by a myriad of small players with small plots of land operating at the subsistence level, and without insurance. A responsible government has to respond with some kind of assistance,” he added.

He said that the ministry has so far provided $240 million in support to the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) to provide planting material and other inputs to farmers.

In the case of the Beet Army Worm, he said government has provided $18 million to assist farmers affected in St Elizabeth. Cabinet last week approved a $700-million programme to fight the frosty pod disease over the next two years.

RADICAL SHIFT IN POLICY

“Unfortunately, the inclement weather continued into 2018, and we have so far witnessed extensive flooding in Portland, St Mary and Trelawny, not only causing agricultural damage to the tune of over $343 million, but significant infrastructure damage, such as farm roads,” he stated.

He said the ministry would provide some $100 million in support to the three parishes.

He said these events in the sector have focused the government's attention to explore a new strategy for agricultural development.

“The growth and development of the sector has always been closely correlated with the weather. The onset of climate change has made this correlation even closer, and the sector cannot continue to perform in a sustainable manner unless we radically shift our strategy,” Samuda argued.

He added that while irrigation provides a level of mitigation against drought, it does not ameliorate conditions of flooding.

However, he pointed out that the new agriculture requires bigger players, working in concert with the smaller players to infuse agriculture with the new technology, “to champion protective agriculture and perfect the mother farm and satellite farm concepts which have done so well for others”.

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