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US$60 million irrigation scheme for southern St Elizabeth

TREASURE BEACH, St Elizabeth — A comprehensive irrigation scheme funded by US$60 million in grant and loan funds is to be executed in drought-prone southern St Elizabeth, Finance Minister Audley Shaw said Saturday night.

Shaw told a Jamaica Labour Party fund-raiser that US$30 million — part of a US$70 -million grant from the British Government — matched by a US$30-million, low-interest loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) would be “dedicated to putting in a modern irrigation project for the entire south St Elizabeth region”.

Shaw later explained to journalists that the grant was part of that announced by British Prime Minister David Cameron during a visit to Jamaica last year.

Shaw said he expected the project to be “full speed ahead” in the 2017/18 fiscal year, “next year” and his “guestimate” was that it could be done within two fiscal years.

Shaw said there would be “nominal interest rates” of “two, two and a half per cent”, for the CDB loan. “These are very very attractive interest rates,” he said. “So we have part in grant funding — no interest, and then we have the companion part (loan) at a very low-interest cost for a substantial, modern irrigation system for the whole southern region of St Elizabeth,” he added.

Shaw’s simple rationale was that “South St Elizabeth has pronounced potential but has been inhibited by problems of inadequate water…”

St Elizabeth is often described as the ‘bread basket’ of Jamaica, and its southern section is among Jamaica’s most productive areas, particularly in terms of vegetables and spices, despite arid conditions for much of the year. Severe drought in 2014 and 2015 has severely affected farming in the area.

Irrigation schemes in areas such as Hounslow and Little Park have proven insufficient and there have been repeated calls for more comprehensive water schemes to assist domestic farmers.

In neighbouring and equally arid southern Manchester, an agro park fed by an irrigation scheme launched three years ago has proven very successful.

— Garfield Myers

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