'We need some rain prayer'
South Manchester/ St Elizabeth farmers hit hard by drought
File photo of Everton Holness showing damage to crops on his farm in Chocolate Hole near Junction, St Elizabeth, in 2021. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Like his colleagues in this parish, farmer Conrad Murray is struggling to cope with the meteorological drought now affecting most of the island.

"We need some rain prayer," Murray, whose farm is in New Forest, south Manchester, told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

"It is rough, very hard. Even the irrigation water, we are fighting an uphill battle," he said.

"Cucumber short; thyme just a get available and is still going for $800 per pound; scallion $90 per pound, which is pretty high for this time of the year. With the present drought, and if rain nuh fall, the price of things is going to double and triple," Murray added.

This file photo shows Conrad Murray being given a hand with a load of scallion from his farm by Gary Clarke. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Everton Holness, whose farm is at Chocolate Hole near Junction in St Elizabeth, although sharing a different experience in terms of the pricing of crops, said, "The drought is rough."

"The prices for the things cheap, because I wouldn't expect this type of drought and the price for even plummy tomato is $30 [per pound]; cucumber $40 [per pound]. I am wondering what really a gwaan. Some farmers are losing their crops, especially sweet pepper, just burning up. Sweet pepper selling for like $250 per pound. Melon, two weeks ago, was like $120 up to $150 [per pound]. Now melon is at $70 and $80 per pound," he said.

"It is very surprising for the kind of drought that the farmers are facing and for the price [reducing] it is kind of surprising, it is really rough," Holness added.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Lenworth Fulton said the drought has severely affected agriculture.

FULTON… this is one of the worst droughts.

"This is one of the worst droughts. When the stats are taken it will do more damage than any other drought in the last 50 years. Look on the Irish potato crop, [it] has been lost. Yam farmers, another major group, what they are reaping it doesn't make any sense and they can't plant back, because the drought is so intense," he said.

He noted that there was some amount of rain on Tuesday night, but said, "you can't count on that yet".

Fulton also pointed out that vegetable farmers who have no access to irrigation are unable to plant. Additionally, livestock farmers have to be buying drums to store water for the animals.

He argued that successive administrations have failed to properly address the country's water woes.

Minister of Agriculture Pearnel Charles Jr speaking to the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

"We have not done well in planning for water in Jamaica. It is not too late to begin the planning, but we need to start to plan now," he said.

When asked how the drought has affected the agriculture sector, portfolio Minister Pearnel Charles Jr told the Observer "it is still early days yet".

"It takes time for us to really see first that impact and to collect that data, but anecdotally, we have heard from farmers. We have heard from persons in the market that they have seen some dip in production in some areas," he said ahead of a tour of farms in St Elizabeth on Wednesday.

"The good thing about it is that we were on the trajectory to increasing production, which means that the dip hopefully won't carry us below where we were last year. We are hoping to have continued, even if minimised, growth throughout this period. We should see a levelling off in the next month if we start to get some rain," he added.

He said more than $90 million has been dispersed to provide support to farmers and another $110 million has been allocated to bolster response to the drought.

"Our main issue has to do not just with the rainfall patterns, but with the moisture conditions in the soil, which leads to the plants either completing their cycle or not being able to complete their cycle of development and then affecting productivity and production, which affects consumers in terms of the scarcity and prices," he said.

"It is a great concern. This is why we have had a proactive approach. More than $90 million was already spent in terms of support to build up resilience, provision of equipment, trucking of water, and the building of micro dams," he added.

"We have the largest capital investment in our irrigation network in Essex Valley to build out the long-term sustainable structures of irrigation across the country. We have allocated another $110 million, which is already activated to make sure we can give additional support. We are purchasing a 4,000-gallon water truck to increase our fleet. We are continuing trucking. We are continuing to support livestock farmers. We are providing seeds and other support to help with the maintenance of the production level".

Holness said farmers have been relying heavily on trucked water.

"We buy from the trucks that go source the water from New Forest (Manchester). They will charge you like $18,000 for one load. The crops are not getting the amount of what it's supposed to get. When the plant is not getting the overhead (rain) water, the plant goes down fast any time you start to reap, so all we can do is touch the roots," he said.

The agriculture minister said Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and National Irrigation Commission (NIC) are coordinating the response to assist farmers.

"Thankfully, what we have been seeing in the last week is that we should be getting some rain. We are hoping that it helps to balance out the issues that our farmers have been facing, but in the short term we continue to utilise the network through RADA and NIC to focus on providing that support, rehabilitating wells, increasing the hours to pumps, the wells, and also providing training the farmers so that they can understand more about water efficiency and how to utilise the water in the best possible way," he said.

See related story:

Rio Grande Valley residents rue lack of rainfall

BY KASEY WILLIAMS Observer staff reporter kaseyw@jamaicaobserver.com

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