Members of the farming community caught in the lockdown of St Catherine are crying foul as they claim the restriction on movement is preventing them from visiting their farms with the regularity needed.
President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society Lenworth Fulton says the problem of the farmers is compounded with the fact that there is no provision for them in the Government’s COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.
“The lockdown is seriously hurting us because there is no exemption for farmers. There is an exemption for haulage contractors who are hauling sugar cane and chicken, which I am happy for, but for farmers to access their business place, which is their farm, there is no exemption,” Fulton told the Jamaica Observer.
“Against that background there are livestock which need feed, there are poultry that need feed, and the farm stores are closed except for the two designated days. I think the farm stores should remain open throughout the lockdown and a farmer should be able to prove that they are going to do farming and be allowed to travel,” added Fulton.
The JAS president said, while he understands the need for some restriction in movement to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), he cannot accept the restrictions that are now in place as they are threatening the livelihood of many St Catherine farmers.
“The Jamaica Agricultural Society is 100 per cent behind the fight to control COVID, but we need provisions in there to protect our farmers,” argued Fulton who lives in St Catherine but operates a farm in St Ann.
He said he had an order for a significant amount of Irish potatoes, which was to have been collected from his farm yesterday, but based on the lockdown of the parish he was not able to be there.
“The crop farmers have crops that have to be reaped as they mature and they are not able to access their farms except on Wednesdays and Saturdays which are the days designated for them to stock up for food and medicine,” noted Fulton.
He said the disregard for farmers in the CARE Programme has added insult to their injuries.
“The CARE package published by the Ministry of Finance had two pictures about agriculture but no written language. It spoke about $200 million which is redistribution from the Budget under the Production Incentive Programme. There was no stimulus for the farmers and none was announced.
“The only stimulus a farmer could access was the compassionate grant, and this was linked to the TRN [tax registration number]. Who said this was a compulsory number. My seasonal workers who work on my farm don’t have any TRN, but they have voters’ registration numbers, so some category should have been set aside for the farmers,” argued Fulton as he noted that the CARE Programme accounted for “hotel workers” with no mention of “farm workers”.
According to Fulton, he is willing to believe that the absence of any special measures for members of the agricultural sector is an oversight on the part of the Government which will be addressed.
“And I urge the prime minister and the minister of finance to fix the system to farm workers. There is no TRN when the farmers go to buy at the hardware or the farm stores, so it should not be compulsory for the farm workers to have this number to access any Government benefit,” argued Fulton.
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