Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, says the Government has entered into a $100 million arrangement with Jamaica Producers, the island’s largest distributors of banana chips and ripe bananas. The loan is tied to the local farmers providing bananas to Jamaica Producers for the production of chips. In addition, he disclosed that the Ministry has set aside a $12.5 million facility, to enable banana farmers to access loans at five per cent interest rate. The Minister was addressing the Social Development Commission’s Parish Forum on Thursday, February 21, at St. Mary High School. He noted that over the past two years, up to US$8 million in banana chips has been imported into the country. “That must not happen, it must stop,” Minister Clarke said. He noted that the Ministry of Finance and Planning has since added stamp duty of 15 per cent on the importation of those chips. In the meantime, Minster Clarke said the parish of St. Mary once again poised to play a critical role in the country’s agricultural development. He noted that St. Mary is often blessed with rainfall when other areas are experiencing drought, and that the Ministry is looking to capitalize on this advantage, to enable farmers to produce more. Minister Clarke revealed that the government has earmarked $50 million to provide farmers with seeds. Additionally, they will pay subsidised rates of 50 per cent for fertiliser, as a means of boosting agricultural output. He said farmers need to “up the ante and produce in a serious way”, crops such as ginger, cocoa and turmeric. “We are going to make St. Mary again become a serious agricultural production area,” he added. Additionally, the parish is set to benefit from a $45 million crop production programme, being spearheaded by the Ministry. The initiative is aimed at assisting farmers to mitigate the serious effects of drought, and to boost production. Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, who also addressed the forum, noted that some 1,000 plantain and banana farmers in St. Mary, who are registered with the Banana Board and the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA) are already benefitting from the provision of fertiliser and insecticide, under the European Union’s $13.5 million Banana Support Programme. The Prime Minister said that the Government is doing its best to help farmers in Portland, upper St. Andrew, and St. Mary to get back on their feet after the adverse effects of Hurricane Sandy. St. Mary, for decades, has been a prime location for banana cultivation in Jamaica. However, the parish has been affected by a series of natural disasters over the years, the most recent of which was Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed some 93 per cent of the banana crop.