Jamaica’s agricultural sector rebounding

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica’s agricultural sector is reporting remarkable recovery following the devastation caused by four hurricanes in a two-year period and severe drought prior to that.

The sector grew by 19 per cent in the 2006/2007 financial year, reaching its highest output level since 2003. This was an even better result than the impressive 15.9 per cent growth, which was posted for the 2006 calendar year.

The recovery has continued into the first quarter of 2007 with the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) reporting that real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing improved by an estimated four per cent relative to the January to March 2006 period. This, the PIOJ pointed out, was the seventh consecutive quarter of GDP growth for the sector.

The robust growth being experienced in agriculture has positive implications for employment creation, income levels, and the general standard of living in the island’s rural communities.

In explaining last year’s 19 per cent growth, the PIOJ has pointed to the successful implementation by the Government of the first phase of the new Agricultural Development Strategy. The Strategy is aimed at transforming the sector by the year 2020. Among its objectives, are: to halt the decline in the agricultural sector and secure continued contribution to economic and social stability. It also aims to ensure that farming communities provide meaningful livelihoods and living environments for the thousands of Jamaicans who rely on agriculture.

Activities by government and non-governmental organizations have also been supported by relatively good weather conditions compared to previous years. For example, Hurricane Ivan hit the island in 2004, causing severe set back to the agricultural sector.

This devastation came just one month after Hurricane Charley, which, although it spared most of the island, caused some $300 million in crop losses in the bread basket parish of St. Elizabeth alone. Hurricanes Emily and Dennis followed in 2005, worsening the situation.

The massive destruction caused by these hurricanes, came just four years after the deadly drought of 1999-2000 when rainfall dropped to a quarter of its normal levels in some areas. The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) reported crop losses of approximately US$6 million between October 1999 and March 2000.

Between 1999 and 2005 therefore, the agriculture sector was besieged by a combination of drought, floods and hurricanes. The 19 per cent growth registered in 2006 not only means the sector has recovered, but this year’s output is now on track to reaching one of its highest levels in ten years.

In addition, the lessons learned from the seven years of unfavorable weather have led to the implementation of a number of new infrastructural support programs that should put the country in a better to position to recover from any future natural disasters.

The recent commissioning of a $28 million irrigation system at Seven Rivers in St. James, for example, is the second of three flagship irrigation projects designed to help farmers withstand future droughts. The Pedro Plains Irrigation System in St. Elizabeth was commissioned in late June, while the rehabilitated Hounslow Irrigation System, also in St. Elizabeth, is to be brought into service in September of this year. A further five irrigation systems are on track to be commissioned in the near future.

The growth being registered by the agricultural sector and the massive market potential being created by the upturn in tourist arrivals and hotel room expansion, places agriculture in its best position for growth in more than three decades.

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