Lower crop yields as a result of an extended drought period were the factors responsible for the declines seen across the agriculture sector during the first quarter of this year.
The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), in its recent review of the Jan-Mar quarter, estimated contractions in output of some 7.6 per cent for the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector. This follows an overall decline of 0.7 per cent within the larger goods producing industry, where key industries such as manufacturing grew by less than one per cent in output as construction declined by 4 per cent. The more dominant mining and quarry industry powered by the resumption of alumina production at the Jamalco refinery stood as the only strong performing subsector witnessing growth of almost 96 per cent.
The agriculture sector, which saw consecutive growth in the last few quarters, previously recorded growth within the range of 6-16 per cent. During the reporting quarter the local economy registered growth of approximately 2.7 per cent above that of the corresponding period of last year.
"The performance of the industry reflected the impact of drought conditions. This resulted in a decline in productivity as reflected in lower output per hectare, as well as a delay in planting of crops, which contributed to a decline in hectares reaped for domestic crops," PIOJ Director General Dr Wayne Henry said in his presentation of the estimates last week.
The extended period of drought which saw a reduction in rainfall for several months, Henry further said affected all parishes resulting in mass contraction in hectares reaped with the exception of Portland and Clarendon, which increased by 4.6 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively.
Within the 'Other Agricultural Crop' group, an estimated contraction of 9.6 per cent was also recorded due to lower production in all nine crop groups. Potatoes which went down 23 per cent, legumes 16 per cent and cereals 14 per cent, were among those having the most significant declines. Traditional export crops also fell by an estimated 1.4 per cent resulting in lower output for produce such as bananas, down 3.9 per cent and cocoa, down 30.3 per cent.
The performance of the sector, which was tempered by better results from animal farming, led to growth of 2.8 per cent, largely driven by the increased production of broiler meat (up 1.9 per cent ) and eggs (up 7.4 per cent).
"Increases were also recorded for post-harvest activities, pushed by a higher production of coffee," Henry stated.
For the full 2022/23 fiscal year, which is projected to have seen economic expansion within the range of 4-6 per cent, improved out-turns for the agriculture sector, which along with other industries such as the services industry's giant — hotels and restaurants, other services, transport, storage and communication and manufacturing, all recorded strong growth. For the year, agriculture is said to have expanded by 4.8 per cent.
The director general in maintaining a positive outlook shared a projection for all industries to experience growth guarded against a number of potential downside risk which could impact performance. For the agriculture sector, he cited weather-related shocks, especially in the wake of the hurricane season, and the intensification of drought-related conditions as those likely to curtail growth for the sector.
"Better than expected weather outcomes, leading to increased agricultural output and water production," he, however, outlined as the foremost potential upside to growth.