Big setback for 11,000 banana farmers
THE Ministry of Agriculture says early estimates indicate that close to 11,000 farmers across the island have been affected by Hurricane Sandy, with some 1,500 hectares of crops destroyed.
"The level of devastation to the agricultural sector is going to take us a little time to get back on our feet," said Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Ian Hayles. He noted that the preliminary estimate does not include livestock.
Addressing reporters following a tour of a number of banana farms in St Mary, the state minister said preliminary estimates show that the passage of Hurricane Sandy, last Wednesday dealt a devastating blow to the country's agricultural sector, which could amount to more than $1 billion.
He pointed out that early estimates pointed to more than $700 million worth of damage in the parishes of St Mary, Trelawny, St James, Westmoreland, St Elizabeth, Manchester, St Catherine, and St Andrew.
A breakdown of the parishes shows significant losses for St Andrew, amounting to some $312 million; followed by St Mary, at some $200 million.
"I think when all of this is over (the assessment), it is going to be over a billion dollars," he said, noting that the damage to the coffee industry in the hills of St Andrew has been significant, and that banana farmers in St Mary have been completely devastated.
In the meantime, several banana farmers in the parish of St Mary told JIS News that they have lost as much as 100 per cent of their crops due to the hurricane.
Farmer, Denzil Cox, informed that he has lost close to 100 per cent or 15 1/2 acres of banana, with an estimated value of more than $1.5 million.
"I fertilised the farm three weeks ago, and that was $400,000, and everything is down now and I have to replant and do the same fertilising, which is another $400,000. Plus, my weekly pay bill is going to be about $80,000 and every two weeks I spray, which is $42,000, so it is a lot of losses," he said.
Cox said he is now in need of assistance from the Government to restore his banana farm so he can get back into production as early as possible.
Operator of Gay Rocks Farm, Daniel Barnett, who has weathered three storms over the past six years, also lost 100 per cent of his crops. "My farm is 10 acres, and this is the first time I'm experiencing such a large damage," he said.
Barnett noted that he has been contributing to the Government's Catastrophe Fund and is now looking to that initiative for assistance in getting his farm back into production.
Meanwhile, the state minister gave the assurance that farmers who have been contributing to the Catastrophe Fund will be dealt with "early and efficiently".
"The ministry will also sit (this week) and do some assessments in terms of reallocation to see how best we can put the farmers back into production," Hayles said.
He pointed out that in terms of assistance to commercial farmers, the Government will be looking to cut interest rates, in order to allow them to go back into production as soon as possible.
"We have been faced with these kinds of disasters before, and we are of the view that if the ministry is proactive in going forward, these problems can be solved efficiently and very speedily," he said.
The state minister said the Government is committed to the over 200,000 farmers "we have in this country and we will continue to support them in whatever way we can, going forward."