ALBERT TOWN, Trelawny — The farmer is an essential stakeholder in Jamaica’s growing economy.
But with the novel coronavirus spreading rapidly across the globe, affecting millions of jobs, closing schools, churches, and businesses, they too have felt its negative impacts.
Farmers in South Trelawny who are known for producing a variety of yams have been severely affected since the disease was first detected on the island.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer West earlier this week, Gary Howard, who has been a farmer for over 30 years, explains that since the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed on the island, he has been finding it extremely difficult to satisfy his family’s basic needs.
“Wi a feel di pressure fi over a week now. Mi plant yam, banana, plantain, and cane, but no food nah sell, and dem ting deh, everything kinda slow up yah now,” Howard complained.
He is extremely grateful, however, to some vendors who have been purchasing “a little” of their produce.
“The higgla dem tek likkle, likkle from some a wi, so all a wi can eat a likkle food, but things bad,” said Howard.
Melva Wright-McFarlane who farms on over 20 acres of land in Rock Spring, echoed similar sentiments.
“I do mainly yam. The yam price is down. Yuh have the exporters still coming in every week to buy, but I noticed that the orders are less now because the produce are not moving as fast. The local market not taking that much because nobody is in the market, whi haffi lock down by 2:00pm,” she explained.
“One of my vendors who used to take 2,000 lb of yam took only 200 lb last week and seh him a go deliver to him customers,” said Wright-McFarlane.
She also stated that because of social distancing, her workers have stopped coming in because they are staying home to protect themselves and their families.
“Yuh hardly get any workers because everybody a keep in and that’s alright, mi understand seh everyone have to protect themselves,” Wright-McFarlane argued.
Parish manager for the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) in Trelawny, Courtney Taylor, confirmed the plight of the farmers.
“Eighty per cent of the production [domestic crop] in Trelawny is yam. So far, the farmers are still supplying their markets — both export and local. What we have noticed, which is a result of the closing restriction of markets by 2:00 pm, is that the higglers are buying less each time. In other words, some used to buy for instance 2,000 lb on Thursday which will last until Saturday market, but now they reduce the quantity and purchase on Thursday, Friday, and even Saturday,” said Taylor.
He further noted that measures are being put in place by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce Agriculture and Fisheries to lessen the abundance of any one farm item in any area.
“We haven’t foreseen any major glut especially with vegetables, notwithstanding the closure of some of the hotels. The ministry has been meeting with the major buyers and suppliers to have a better distribution system which to some extent will help to mitigate against any possible glut in a parish, or a particular area,” Taylor explained.
Meanwhile, Howard and Wright-McFarlane are not giving up hope, just yet.
“Yuh haffi just do weh yuh can do until things turn. Haffi fight it, wi can’t give up,” said Howard.
According to the Ministry of Health and Wellness, up to Tuesday, there were 25 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on the island, with one death.
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