Drought affecting farmers’ ability to support their families

BY NICHOLAS MARTIN Observer writer

Monday, August 04, 2014    

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FARMERS in the drought-stricken parish of St Thomas say the situation is affecting their ability to feed their families and to make back-to-school preparations for their children for the new school year.

Project Co-ordinator of the St Thomas Environmental Protection Association Benevolent Society Terrence Cover said as the drought conditions worsen there is a reduction of farm produce and a downturn in income for the farm families.

According to Cover, the parish consists of the largest concentration of small hillside farmers in Jamaica who depend a lot on rainfall for irrigation.

Therefore, as the livelihood of farmers and other stakeholders are seriously affected, the society said there will be less money to help with graduation and back-to-school costs, as well as other social and economic issues.

Additionally, there are more bush fires, biodiversity loss, and damage to watersheds, plants and animal life.

"The major rivers are running low and some small streams have already dried up," said Cover, adding that there will be more encroachment on sensitive areas and depletion of limited natural resources."

As such, the benevolent is calling on the relevant authorities to consider assisting the farmers with the cost of land preparation, seeds and other planting materials and to do whatever possible to cushion the blows to the sector.

"The situation will worsen with the dry spell and we must be mindful that we are in the Atlantic Hurricane Season and we all have to brace ourselves for any eventualities," he said.

Oneil Bogle, a farmer from Seaforth in the parish, told the Jamaica Observer North East that he and other colleagues are now greatly set back by the drought.

"Preparations right now are not where they are supposed to be but I still have to take the necessary steps, because at the end of the day my yout dem affi guh out when school start back," explained a pensive Bogle.

The farmer, who grows plantains, bananas and sweet potatoes said the drought is creating a domino effect, as it goes beyond affecting just back-to-school preparations, but his entire means of survival.

"See, because the time hot now, and di water short, di ting dem a dry up, and even if the plantain dem shoot, dem small," he said, adding, "I do farming for survival and it is my only source of funding. Right now, it seems I have to find a different alternative, which I can't really see at this moment, because nutten' nah gwaan roun ya suh."

The farmers also lamented the fact that water is piped from the parish to sections of Kingston and St Andrew as the Yallahs River, for example, is notable for supplying the city with potable water.

Throughout the parish, water is usually in abundance in the forms of rivers, springs and aquifers, which all serve as major potable water supply sources for the entire parish. However, despite the abundance of potable water sources in St Thomas, the parish is still faced with the challenge of water shortage and improper water distribution even outside of the drought.

The National Water Commission (NWC) in a recent report states that this is due to "the continuous degradation of piping infrastructure, intake facilities, treatment plants and pumping equipment".

The farmers called on the authorities for the implementation of effective systems such as irrigation equipment for water harvesting in anticipation of dry periods.

"Right now there is not much the government can do to alleviate this problem, because they failed in making preparations for the drought. No water was stored in the event of a drought," said 37-year-old farmer Kenroy Mason.

Mason pointed to the long-term detriment this drought might cause, noting that there could be a possible famine, as well as health scares.

"Dis whole heap of imported goods will certainly have an effect on consumers because they are heavily fertilised and genetically modified," added Mason. The coconut and yam farmer, told the Jamaica Observer North East that while farming may not be his main livelihood, it still sets him back in more ways than one.

"I operate a cookshop which provides customers with ital food, so I depend on my farm. Without the things I plant I would not be able to operate this shop, so I'm affected in more ways than one," he said.

The farmers noted that recovery from this drought will take awhile as the planting season was also affected by the water shortage.

"Normally when it touches May, the farmers would usually have some short-term crops to reap and profit from those would be used towards back-to-school preparations. Plants like sorrel and gungo peas were not planted due to the lack of rainfall and even if we get a lot of rain in October and November it would not be the best time to plant crops because the earth would have been experiencing fall," Mason said.





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