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Agriculture and the wellness revolution

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The Agriculture Sector in SVG is not about to die. Far from it. Indeed, unless agriculture plays its part, it will be difficult, not to say impossible, for the Wellness Revolution to achieve its objectives. We have, however, to think carefully about what we are doing.{{more}}

SVG has 7,380 holdings spread over our mountainous small island. Most of the holdings are small. 73 per cent of them being two and a half acres or less. This means that there is little scope for large-scale, mechanized, plantation agriculture on flat-land that produces crops at the lowest cost. The small size and fairly compact nature of our country, however, makes commuting relatively easy and it is possible for many people to live on their holdings and do part-time farming or, at least, backyard gardening.

Currently, construction is the economy’s most dynamic sector and agriculture has to compete with it for labour. Farmers, therefore, find that the cost of labour is not only high but also labour is scarce. A lot of work on the farm has to be done by the farmer and his family. All of this points to small scale farming and backyard gardening.

Recently, oil prices have been hovering at around US$100 per barrel. This has meant that fertilizer prices have gone through the roof. Farmers will find it hard to pay these prices and still operate profitably. Compost and pen manure, therefore, come into the reckoning. Farmers can produce these items for themselves or they can buy compost from the Solid Waste Unit at Diamond and pen manure from chicken farmers. All this can probably be done more easily by small farmers and backyard gardeners.

The top priority for small farmers and backyard gardeners has to be food for their own households. Any effort to promote this sector has to take cognizance of the Wellness Revolution. It is generally accepted that Diabetes and High Blood Pressure pose serious health problems for our country. The food we eat impacts on these ailments and so lists of Wellness foods have been compiled. They usually include beans, broccoli, cabbage, callaloo, cauliflower, christophene, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, okra, onion, peppers, spinach and tomatoes. Many people simply cannot afford to buy these commodities on a regular basis. They should try growing them. The seeds, pesticides and even containers in which they can be grown are obtainable from the Agriculture Input Warehouse.

All this is not to say that agriculture in SVG should be limited to farmers growing food to feed themselves. There is scope for commercial production. While farms of 5 acres and over comprise only 27 per cent of total holdings, they account for 10,600 acres, 61 percent of farmland.

There are many crops that can be grown. These include those already mentioned, since not everyone will be growing food to feed themselves and, in addition, there are export markets. In Jamaica and Trinidad the production of these Wellness foods in greenhouses is now strongly advocated. We ourselves can learn a lot from the Cubans as regards greenhouses, compost and the use of small plots to produce lots of vegetables.

But Wellness foods apart, there are other possibilities.

Coconuts deserve special consideration for several reasons. Biofuels will keep driving up the cost of cooking oil. Now that coconut oil is not as dangerous to health as was once widely proclaimed, we can again return to producing it on a commercial scale. In addition to cooking oil, there are many other items that can be obtained from the coconut, including coconut water, dried coconuts, desiccated coconuts, coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut/pineapple salads, and other desserts. Moreover, coconuts are not a labour-intensive crop and all farmers can have a few trees. Over a year ago, some interesting varieties of coconuts were identified in Malaysia. These have yet to reach SVG.

Another crop worthy of attention is sweet potatoes. This commodity has recently been touted as a Wellness food, particularly for diabetics. It is said to stabilize blood sugar and reduce resistance to insulin. Noting how its popularity has grown, even in developed countries, one suspects that there is more than a grain of truth in these observations.

Fifty years ago SVG produced so many sweet potatoes that the schooners transporting them raced to reach Trinidad. The one which got there first cornered the market, and those arriving later would have to dump their cargo. When the marketing Board was set up, Vin Sprott put an end to this nonsense by having the crop specified and rationing supply through the issuance of bags to farmers. We have to look at this crop again, select appropriate varieties and avoid areas already infested with pest and disease. Dasheen, eddoes, tannias, yams and golden apples are among the other crops that merit consideration.

Finally, there is the issue of livestock. We have long been involved in the production of pigs, goats, sheep and poultry. We need dung to add to compost and so reduce our reliance on imported fertilizer. This adds to the impetus to develop the small stock sector. Meat is, of course, the main output of the sector.

The Taiwanese Agriculture Mission has already contributed to the Wellness Revolution by assisting us in the production of leaner pork.

The Ministry of Agriculture has set up hatcheries in its drive to increase poultry production. Should it succeed in its overall plan, then even more dung would be available. There is another aspect to this. It has been said that one reason why some of our people are so fat is that they eat too much imported chicken that has been injected with growth hormones. Whether this is true or not, we would at least know what we are eating if we are able to produce all our own chickens. This of course has implications for the Wellness Revolution.