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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

According to the National Irrigation Development Plan (NIDP), areas suitable for irrigation have been classified into three land categories: (1) lands which may be irrigated with all common irrigation techniques; (2) lands suited only to sprinkler and localized irrigation techniques; (3), lands with generally steep slopes (>10 percent) and thin soils, which are productive with careful management of the limitations and responsive to manual irrigation. This third category applies mainly to small hillside farmers. From this analysis 90 811 ha were classified as Category 1 and 2, while 97 095 ha were classified as Category 3. These categories do not take water resources into account.

Irrigation has always played a significant role in the island’s agriculture, and the need to continuously improve irrigation practices has long been recognized. Over the years some of the improvements which have been made have included channel lining and utilization of closed pipes in order to improve conveyance efficiencies, the use of water measuring techniques to encourage improved management, and the use of overnight storage facilities. In 1997, about 25 220 ha were irrigated.

In 2010, the area equipped for irrigation is estimated at 30 682 ha. Surface irrigation accounts for 23 012 or 75 percent, sprinkler irrigation for 5 216 ha or 17 percent and drip irrigation for 2 454 ha or 8 percent (Table 4 and Figure 4).

Public irrigation systems managed by the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) cover approximately 50 percent of the total area equipped for irrigation, commercial estates and private individual systems the other 50 percent.

The NIC is responsible for operating and maintaining delivery systems for six public districts: Rio Cobre, Saint Dorothy, Mid-Clarendon, Hounslow, Braco and Yallahs. The networks consist of open canals and pressurized pipelines. Water is abstracted from river diversions, small storage reservoirs and deep wells. In the private sector, in addition to sugar estates in Saint Catherine which receive much of their irrigation water from NIC, there are several commercial estates which have implemented their own irrigation systems. Many farmers with small holdings in most parishes irrigate vegetables or fruit trees using their domestic water supply or from local surface sources or springs or stored precipitation. In general, irrigation in Jamaica is characterized by low efficiencies and significant wastage of water.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

In 2010, the harvested irrigated crop area covered 30 682 ha, giving an irrigated cropping intensity of 100 percent. Of the total harvested irrigated crop area, 12 000 ha or 39 percent were sugarcane, 8 682 ha or 28 percent vegetables, 8 000 ha or 26 percent citrus and 2 000 ha or 7 percent bananas (Table 4 and Figure 5).

Irrigated sugarcane is mainly on public schemes using surface irrigation, whereas private schemes favour more high valued crops (e.g. banana and vegetables) and systems with higher efficiencies such as localized and sprinkler irrigation. It should be noted that non-irrigated crops such as coffee, cocoa, and pimento are also important to the economy.

Based on an analysis of 51 projects undertaken under the NIDP, the average construction cost of irrigation schemes was estimated to be US$4 785/ha, with a range from US$943/ha to US$20 450/ha. The average operations and maintenance cost was estimated to be US$740/ha, with a range from US$13/ha to US$1 714/ha.

Women and irrigation

Women remain in secondary farming roles in Jamaica. However, some efforts have been done to improve the participation of women in agriculture including the irrigation sector.

The Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), with the support of UN Women, has led a project focused on women agricultural producers’ role in sustainable development in Jamaica that aims to reduce women’s lack of access to resources. The project includes training for women in the use of technologies to improve irrigation and other water-management strategies (UN Women, 2014).

The National Irrigation Commission has undertaken projects in 6 irrigation communities including gender issues (NIC, 2009).

The National Irrigation Development Program (NIDP), that started in 2005, has many positive social benefits that increases the economic and social welfare of women. They benefit from leadership training, cropping and increased production knowledge and marketing skills, resulting in increased income equality and independence.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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