Gov’t aid giving farmers a leg up

In a bid to help the devastated agricultural community back on its feet, Cabinet recently approved proposals by the Department of Agriculture for the implementation of an assistance programme for farmers.

‘Under the present circumstances, it was the duty of the Government to support the farming community, who has served an important role in providing these islands with quality produce for many years,’ said Mr. Gilbert McLean, Minister for Health Services, Agriculture, Aviation and Works, states a GIS press release.

The programme will help with fence restoration, and will offer livestock feed, planting materials, fertilizers and soil ameliorants at reduced costs. Farmers will also soon be able to apply for a combination of interest free loans and grants to repair infrastructure and replace livestock

‘The department has already done a tremendous amount of work since Hurricane Ivan including debris removal, resuscitation of fruit trees and general restoration of farming operations. The approval of this additional government assistance programme will greatly enhance our ability to help farmers move forward,’ said Chief Agricultural and Veterinarian Officer Dr Alfred Benjamin.

The farming community suffered extensively from the hurricane: The report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean assessed damage and losses to the agricultural sector at $5.6 million.

Crops, livestock

It is estimated that 90 per cent to 95 per cent of all crops on Grand Cayman were destroyed. Hundreds of trees were uprooted and small crop farmers suffered the near destruction of their yam, hot pepper and callaloo plantings.

Also some 59 cows and more than 200 goats were lost.

The local poultry industry suffered serious damage to its infrastructure, including extensive damage to most of the poultry housing and the loss of the vast majority of the caged poultry.

The first phase of the government assistance programme to come on line was the 50 per cent reduction in the price of livestock feed, which started in February. This has proved a tremendous help to farmers in keeping their animals adequately fed in absence of normal pastures caused by the hurricane and the unusually dry conditions since, said Dr Benjamin.

The DOA has also begun assisting farmers to re-establish their fences and any farmer needing assistance repairing fences will get labour and equipment from DOA free of cost. Farmers will also benefit from subsidies on materials. All materials used for the re-establishment of the fence will be billed to the recipient farmer at fifty percent of their cost.

Planting materials

Cabinet has earmarked $110,000 for the purchase of planting materials to help restore crops and fruit trees. Some 80 per cent of these funds will be used to supply bona fide farmers or farming operations with planting material free of cost. The remainder will be earmarked to purchase planting material for sale to backyard gardeners and homeowners at a fifty percent discount from cost.

The department is in the process of acquiring this material, the majority of which will be on site at its nursery shortly. There are however, a number of serious concerns as to the current adverse weather conditions for establishing these plants at this time.

‘The very dry conditions, high winds and the fact that most wells and ground water sources have been contaminated by salt, make establishing these young plants very problematic at this time,’ stated Dr. Benjamin. ‘The last thing the department wants is for farmers and homeowners to rush to plant out their newly acquired material and have these plants do poorly or die due to an adverse environment. Unless individuals have access to suitable supplies of city or cistern water and the means to irrigate or water the plants regularly, it would be best to delay planting out or for the plants to be maintained at the department’s nursery until such time as conditions improve.’

Contact department

Individuals who have already ordered plants are asked to contact the department to discuss with technical staff the best alternatives for the successful establishment of their plants given their own particular circumstances. Farmers or interested persons who have not yet placed orders for plants are encouraged to contact the department to find out what is available and to place their orders.

Plans are also well advanced to make fertilizers and other soil ameliorants, such as gypsum available to farmers, backyard gardeners and homeowners at fifty percent of cost, in time for the main planting season when the rains begin. Once the start date of this part of the program is announced in the next few weeks, everyone will be welcome to purchase these subsidised fertilizers and soil ameliorants from the DOA’s Lower Valley headquarters. Quantities will however be limited in order to maximize assistance to the farming community and items will only be sold directly to individual homeowners and not to companies.

Use assistance

In taking advantage of these assistance programmes, farmers and homeowners are urged to make use of the technical assistance on offer from the department: ‘DOA personnel will gladly make site visits on request and advise clients of the correct rate of application of fertilizers and gypsum for the specific crop and soil in their particular area,’ said DOA Marketing Coordinator Brian Crichlow.

For more information on the available assistance programmes, farmers and backyard gardeners can contact the DOA at 947-3090 or visit the Lower Valley Agricultural Complex.