Climate departure and agriculture
When the unprecedented becomes inescapable
A map of Jamaica showing areas in brown which will become difficult for agricultural production by 2050 as temperatures rise. The green areas will be more suitable.(Image: provided by Professor Michael Taylor, UWI, Mona).

PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Agricultural Society Lenworth Fulton is calling on the Government to take steps to quickly bring greater improvements to Jamaica's agricultural resilience amid a pronouncement that by the middle of the current century most of the country's prime agricultural land would be stressed by climate change.

Climate scientist and dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The University of the West Indies, Professor Michael Taylor in a presentation late last year at the Acorn Climate Summit 2022 held at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in St Andrew, sounded the warning that Jamaica's already burdened food production could come under additional strain from climate change events led by what he calls climate departure from temperature rise.

"Here is a study that tries to project [to] 2050. If we use climate alone, what are the areas of Jamaica that become unsuitable for common crops that we plant? And what areas become suitable for some common crops that we plant?" Taylor asked rhetorically in the midst of a presentation on climate departure — a period which starts in 2023, when Jamaica will get progressively hotter each year, according to research scientists at the University of Hawaii.

Pointing to a map of Jamaica which shows all the southern plains — St Jago Plains, Vere Plains, Pedro Plains and St Georges Plains, the country's chief food growing areas — all in brown, Taylor continued, "The brown areas become unsuitable [for food production] just using climate alone. So, not accounting for soil or anything else, or where development is, and the green areas become more suitable."

The green areas he pointed to were the mountainous interior of the island.

"We always know that farmers are vulnerable but can you see the expanded vulnerabilities of the farmer? Look on where the browns are, the bread basket areas. More and more farmers and more and more areas become vulnerable to climate.

"But at the same time, can you see the new vulnerable [areas] where it becomes more and more suitable [to grow food]? [It's] the interior — those nice, protected forest areas of Jamaica."

Reacting to his warning, JAS President Fulton was strident.

"These studies are done and they are real. Where we have a problem is that we are not reacting in any practical or scientific way to it. What I would expect us to do: Government with funding, including climate change funding, [needs] to ensure that we have adequate water in these areas. The National Irrigation Commission [NIC] should ensure they pressurise the water that more farmers can benefit to continue growing their crops."

Fulton added that he expected the Government "to look at the areas that are harder to manage" as changes in the climate become more impactful on prime farmlands.

"I want them to look at where we really couldn't do anything about [the impact] and find out how many shade houses, or greenhouses, or hydroponics we could put in cooler areas to compensate.

"I would expect our research department to be looking on crops that are more heat-tolerant, say coconut, with drip irrigation. Coconut is a true tropical crop. Citrus is a true tropical crop."

Fulton said Jamaica can adopt the management of what is expected to be dryer plains based on how other countries manage severe droughts.

"When some countries have droughts they cull the animals first because they can grow much quicker than food trees which take five or more years to mature."

He also called on the Government to explore the use of desalination to supplement water in the plains as they get drier.

"If Saudi Arabia can do agriculture in the desert, we can continue to do agriculture in these drier areas [as] we are nowhere near Saudi Arabia.

"I am also wondering when we can look on a desalination process to help the farmers to get water. The cost will be there, but you have to feed the people. Y'see, we cannot be fooled always by this argument of comparative advantage. If that was the argument that the Israelis look at they wouldn't grow anything because they don't grow it cheaper than anybody else, and Saudi Arabia wouldn't grow anything. We have a responsibility here to our people. This is where Government subsidy would come, because it would be the same as giving people rice that comes out of a UN programme."

He was also critical of continued mining in the mountainous interior, which will become the new areas suitable for growing crops.

"What we have to continue to do is to preserve the highlands for the cabbage and the lettuce, the Irish potato, the broccoli, and all of these crops because we know these are not going to do well on the plains so we have to consider zoning. But we can't consider zoning when you are issuing lease ML173 to go into the mountainous region of St Ann — where yam, sweet potatoes, cabbage, lettuce and cucumbers are grown — and take them out of production to mine bauxite."

ML173 refers to a mining lease that was granted to mine bauxite in St Ann.

"The instant cash of mining our land and putting them out of use for ever and ever more must stop. It's not only housing on the plains which is disturbing agricultural lands.

"There is a whole development programme that we should be doing, but we not working on them," Fulton concluded.

Climate scientist and dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the UWI, Mona warns that large areas of prime agricultural lands in Jamaica will be stressed by higher temperatures by 2050.
FULTON...these studies are done and they are real. Where we have a problem is that we are not reacting in any practical or scientific way to it.

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