'Big loss'

St Ann, St Mary farmers suffer as drought-like conditions persist in northern parishes

Observer staff reporter

Monday, July 23, 2018

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PERSISTENT drought-like conditions in St Ann and St Mary have crippled agricultural activities there as small farmers suffer heavy losses with the trend of below-average rainfall for the island continuing through to the secondary rainfall season, which started in May.

Farmers in Walkerswood, St Ann, told the Jamaica Observer North & East during a visit to the parish last Wednesday that drought conditions have affected almost every aspect of their lives.

“The drought a affect us bad. If wi did a get rain di pepper dem woulda more develop. Right now mi pick off half a mi farm and mi nuh get a bucket full yet. If rain did a fall dem woulda blossom more. Half a mi farm normally give mi four or five bags so in total we get about 10 to 11. Di drought a worry mi. wi only a get 'bout 15 minutes of rain. If yuh look pon di dirt it dry bad,” Julian Wilson said.

The single mother, who has been in farming for two decades, told Observer North & East that she has major concerns with the back-to-school period approaching.

“Right now a back-to-school and wi can't start because wi nah produce. It's a chain daughter, if wi nuh have produce di man dem weh wi supply affi go import and then di cost fi things a go right up,” she said.

Wilson is urging the Government to visit the parish in order to get a first-hand look at the damage so far done to crops.

“Wi need help from Government cause it only a go get worse. Come now,” she stressed.

Barrington McKay, who has been farming for 30 years in St Ann, said it has been three months since the parish got sustained rainfall.

“Di drought a kill off all a di farmers 'round here. Wi need di water for di peppers and di rest a crop dem fi come to perfection. Di pepper tree dem empty. If rain did a fall, every two weeks we a pick pepper. It a tek a month now or two months. Time dry suh wi affi a force it. Suh now it slow down di process and wi nuh have nothing fi sell. Remember seh if you normally pick every two weeks you normally a sell and a get money every two weeks. Now you a wait a month or two suh that set you back wicked, wicked.

“If wi carry thousand pound a pepper go factory a $65 per pound suh multiply that and see how much wi losing. If rain did a fall wi coulda carry 500 or 600 pounds go factory. When rain not falling wi carry 'bout 200 pounds,” McKay said.

Robert Thompson is caught between a rock and a hard place. The St Mary farmer cannot decide if he wants to give up on farming or wait out the dry period.

The Brimhall farmer, who has been in the business for over 30 years, said he is leaving “it all in God's hands.

“It really affecting us around here. Wi trying to make it, but this drought thing a fight wi. Wi never have it this bad yet. Wi need some help. Water coming from the pipe but not enough fi help wi. Mi papaw, cocoa, corn, cane, pumpkin, tomato, everything dead. Mi nuh have nothing left,” Thompson said.

“Wi a get a likkle drizzle every now and then but nothing fi help di plants dem. Wi still need more but you know wi a put wi trust inna God hands,” he added.

Another small famer, who gave his name as Byron, said his tomatoes have dried up because of the decrease in rainfall.

“Everything gone; it mash mi up mi a tell you. Mi affi go start from scratch and it nuh easy. Mi have three children, two big but mi have di likkle one fi go back a school suh it rough. Right now a thousands a dollar mi lose from this thing but a suh farming go. Every day nah go pretty,” the man said.

The Government said that it is giving consideration to convening the National Drought Committee to devise strategies to be employed should the island be forced into a widespread drought situation.

Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Daryl Vaz, made the disclosure during a statement in the House of Representatives last Tuesday.

Vaz said that based on analysis of the data covering the April/May period, the parish of Portland is being singled out for special concern as, for the second month running, the index suggests early stages of drought with moderate dryness.

He noted that the north-eastern parishes, including Portland, are the source of most of the water that serves the Corporate Area from the Hermitage Dam.

“Data for June is still being analysed; however, the preliminary data suggest that the drying trend has been maintained for most of the country, and the forecast for the next few months is causing some concern for a few parishes as we navigate the summer season,” Vaz said.

“These conditions could further deteriorate to be considered severely, extremely or exceptionally dry,” he added.

He said that the National Water Commission has indicated that storage levels at the Hermitage Dam have been falling gradually over the past few months, with the system now at approximately 52 per cent of capacity. Mona is nearly full.

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