SANTA Cruz, St Elizabeth — As Member of Parliament (MP) for St Elizabeth North Western, a constituency embracing sections of the rugged Cockpit Country, JC Hutchinson has long been bothered by the difficulty in accessing farm land in steep, mountainous terrain.
“When there is a disaster [such as is caused by hurricanes and floods] you find that many of the roads [in mountainous areas] are blocked,” Hutchinson told listeners at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) office here recently.
“The minister [of Agriculture] will say he wants an estimate of the damage that has been done in an area and he wants it within three days. Now there is no way an extension officer can traverse [large, hard-to-access areas] that he has responsibility for and report back in three days,” he added.
The result, said Hutchinson, is that, in many instances, extension officers resort to “guestimates”. That, said the MP, will often lead to inaccurate information finding its way into official reports which are relied on by Government and national planners.
That sobering reality motivated Hutchinson’s recent presentation of three battery-powered surveillance drones donated by Santa Cruz-based technology products supplier TechGrow to St Elizabeth’s RADA extension services.
Just a foot long and six inches wide, each drone is priced at $52,000, has a range of 500 metres, and can soar to 100 metres high, a representative of TechGrow told the Jamaica Observer.
Hutchinson argued that an extension officer equipped with such surveillance equipment “can stay on the road” and assess damaged or lost crops in difficult terrain. That extension officer “can now give more accurate information about crops, crop damage, and crop acreage”, he said.
Hutchinson, a farmer, who has served in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, said drone technology could also assist in the fight against farm theft, which costs Jamaica’s agriculture billions of dollars annually.
He told of a farmer who lost a cow to thieves, then used a surveillance drone to locate the animal.
Winstion Simpson, acting CEO of RADA, and Nathan Samuels, head of RADA St Elizabeth, thanked Hutchinson for the drones, describing the use of modern technology and “partnerships” as the way forward for Jamaican agriculture.