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$100-m loan facility for hurricane-hit banana farmers

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobsever.com

Friday, November 09, 2012    

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GOVERNMENT is making a $100-million loan package available, through the People's Co-operative Bank, to banana farmers who suffered heavy losses during the passage of Hurricane Sandy last month.

The Administration, however, made it clear that there was "no new money" budgeted for its overall hurricane recovery efforts.

"We have no new money apart from the monies from those governments who gave a commitment and promised to assist. The Government will never be able to fully compensate those who lost everything," Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller told Parliament in a statement Wednesday.

Already France, Germany, Japan and the United States have indicated that they will be assisting the country with various aid. Financial support is also to come from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). The prime minister said that the support will be channelled through the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), and not directly into the government's hands.

According to the prime minister, the Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, negotiated the loan facility which will be available to farmers at a five per cent interest rate. In addition, she said the People's Co-operative Bank have agreed to reduce their one-off fees from three per cent to 1.5 per cent "to assist the industry at this time".

Simpson Miller said Wednesday that her Government was well aware that some small farmers would still be unable to access the loan funds, hence a further negotiation with the European Union to allocate $13 million from the EU Banana Support Programme to assist small farmers with fertiliser and insecticide.

The prime minister said some 3,888 bags of fertiliser and 39 kilogrammes of insecticide would be distributed in the worst affected areas.

In the meantime, banana farmers who suffered losses above 50 per cent of production and who have been subscribers to the Catastrophe Fund, would be receiving their payout shortly, the prime minister told Parliament. Damage to the agricultural sector from the passage of Hurricane Sandy has now been put at $1.43 billion.

The prime minister said the hurricane affected 37,000 farmers, with 3,600 farmers reporting damage to livestock totalling $95 million. Approximately 20 per cent of the unreaped Blue Mountain coffee berries, estimated at 31,600 boxes with a value of $101 million, was lost. In addition, 12 per cent of the remaining crop of High Mountain coffee has also been lost, that's an estimated 4,522 boxes valued at $9 million.

She said that in order to assist with the restoration of cash crops, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, would be providing $13.2-million worth of vegetable seeds to 6,000 farmers, 30.3 million bags of fertiliser, $4-million worth of day-old chicks and animal feeds to 400 farmers, as well as tractor services to assist with land preparation

Preliminary estimates from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security showed that 4,000 houses suffered extensive damaged during the passage of Hurricane Sandy, while another 365 were destroyed. It said 2,797 houses were severely damaged while another 2,271 had minor damage.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller said the Government would be offering assistance, under its Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) to persons whose dwellings were damaged. She said vouchers, valued at $60,000, will be provided to affected persons whose houses were severely damaged, while vouchers valued at $30,000 will be provided to affected persons whose houses had minor damage.

Opposition Member of Parliament Delroy Chuck, meanwhile, urged the Government to ensure that Hurricane Sandy relief items were given out only in the badly affected areas.

"When we talk about day-old chicks to be given out, make sure it's in St Thomas and Portland and not, for example, in my area," Chuck said, noting that members of parliament whose constituencies were not on the receiving end of the worst of Sandy should help with minor relief from their Constituency Development Fund allocations.

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