NIC Expands Drought Management Plan

Dr. Mark Richards, Chief Executive Officer at the National Irrigation Commission Limited makes a point as he addresses a recent JIS Think Tank session.

The National Irrigation Commission Limited (NIC) has expanded its drought management plan, to improve service to its more than 3,600 customers.

Last year the agricultural sector was significantly impacted by drought conditions and word out of the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change is that Jamaica is one of those countries to be impacted by climate change, hence drought conditions will become a recurring decimal.

“In terms of our landscape last year, we had a drought plan that largely embodied the plan for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the National Plan. This year, we will have an expanded drought management plan for the NIC,” Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Mark Richards, tells JIS News.

Dr. Richards says the strategic transformation initiatives undertaken by the Commission are aimed at driving the organization’s business directional shift and capacity building.

“Irrigation is making a difference in the agricultural sector, which has become the focal point for economic growth. So, the repositioning of the organization is critical at this time given the importance of the agricultural sector to the economy and the thrust of the Government,” he notes. With over 36,000 hectares of land presently impacted by irrigation, the NIC is looking to increase its coverage to 40,000 hectares this year, in order to increase agricultural production and productivity.

“The NIC has the drive and capacity to transform the local agricultural sector through the provision of water and irrigation projects and services across the island. Records have shown that when farmers have adequate access to water to cultivate crops, the employment generated creates vibrant communities with a sound economic base,” Dr. Richards argues.

Meanwhile, Commercial Manager at the NIC, Lorraine Geddes McDonald, says there is continuous engagement as the organization seeks to engage under-utilized and un-utilized lands, especially those owned by the Government, to have them under agricultural production. She explains that in support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries policies, the NIC is looking to engage not only government lands but those owned by private individuals. “We are encouraging private individuals who own agricultural lands and have decided for one reason or another to move out of agriculture, to put back those lands into agricultural production,” Ms. McDonald urges. She tells JIS News that a part of the strategic transformation is a paradigm shift to make the NIC more customer centred, as the organization focuses on the needs of the customers.

The NIC has been playing an important role in the agro-park initiative and provides irrigated services to eight of the nine agro-parks across the island. And, with another 21 slated to come on stream, the NIC says it stands ready to support the implementation of the new agro-parks. Director of Engineering and Technical Services at the NIC, Milton Henry, tells JIS News that the Commission distributes water through canals, surface systems and also through piped networks in pressurized systems.

“Our service deliveries are not without challenges. There are instances where communities block the canals which is illegal. This diminishes the quality of the service, so we are working with the community leadership to stem that,” he notes.

“We are also challenged by pilfering at some of our locations and damage to some of our consumer meters. For the year so far, we have seen damage to 12 of our consumer meters in St. Catherine and in another four locations. The replacement of these damaged equipment is in the region of $2 to $3 million,” he says.

Mr. Henry is appealing to members of the public to desist from damaging the systems, noting that persons found guilty of the act can be fined a maximum of $100,000 and/or three years in prison.

The Director points out that the NIC partners with farmers by offering on-farm training to ensure that they can use the service efficiently and improve their productivity. He tells JIS News that the NIC’s aim is to match the actual demand with the water that is being supplied. “So, we are investing in efficiency. We are also putting in hardware, such as variable speed drives at our pumping stations, and capacitors to make the stations more efficient, from an energy perspective. There will be solar applications and wind energy to drive efficiency and ensure that we can deliver quality service to our customers,” Mr. Henry says. The NIC operates two demonstration plots in Braco, Trelawny, and Hounslow in St. Elizabeth. According to Mr. Henry, these are plots the NIC uses for data collection and experimental irrigation techniques, to show farmers best practices in irrigation management on their farms.

“We need to have the information so we can provide concrete evidence to say what works and what will not work. We want to have that level of authority in moving forward. We want to get agriculture to the point where it is knowledge on our part and we can impart that knowledge to our stakeholders,” he explains.

“We are also striving to ensure that we operate up to international standards. Our staff is trained in most emerging agricultural giants, such as China and South America. We are aware of the emerging agricultural technology, so we just need to get the farmers on board with what we have. The demonstration plots are where we take new technology and put it into the ground, so people can see what they can do,” Mr. Henry adds.

The NIC was established by an Act of Parliament in 1987 and operates under the Irrigation Act of 1949. It is licensed to extract and deliver water under the Water Resources Authority (WRA).

 

Source: Judith Hunter, Jamaica Information Service

Photo: Donald Delahaye, Jamaica Information Service

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