Wilma takes its toll on St. Elizabeth

ST. ELIZABETH, Jamaica – Having been on the recovery path following a prolonged drought and the onslaught of several hurricanes, St. Elizabeth farmers will now have to grapple with an estimated $55 million in damage to crops and livestock caused by Hurricane Wilma.

Preliminary estimates of the hurricane damage to livestock and crop islandwide is $237 million, reports the Jamaica Gleaner.

Complicating the plight of the farmers, is the ripple effect of shortages in respective markets as their chief consumers – hotels and restaurants – are reporting a scarcity of local produce, resulting in higher costs for purchasing local produce from rain-affected areas.

Neville Morgan, deputy parish manager of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) St. Elizabeth, told The Gleaner that assessments are still being carried out as the rains have not totally dissipated and several roads to communities remain inaccessible. So far, 741 hectares and 5,000 farmers have been assessed.

“Our estimates are preliminary but we have so far set the cost of the recent disaster at approximately $55 million and this incorporates crops and livestock,” Mr. Morgan said.

The RADA officer pointed out that the hardest-hit areas are the southern farming communities such as Flagaman, Comma Pen, Round Hill, Goshen, New Market, Donegal, Elderslie and Potsdam.

The main crops affected are tomatoes, cucumbers, scallion, sweet pepper, onions, hot pepper and pulses such as peanuts, peas and beans. As such, the prices of these cash crops have skyrocketed since the effects of the flooding.

“Last week, farm-gate price per kilogram for scallion was $330, tomato was $110 and sweet pepper was $176.”

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Horace Peterkin, said hotels have already begun offsetting shortages by buying more imported fruits and vegetables. “We have been paying $500 per pound for scallion, up from $160-$180 before the floods. Now we have to take imports of lettuce, tomatoes and watermelons because they are short,” he stated.