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Chapter 6 – The loss of local species

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Tue, Aug 14, 2012

by Oswald Fereira
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One aspect of village life that has changed is the practice of keeping kitchen gardens and the planting of fruit trees around the yard. On my last visit to SVG some years ago, I was saddened to see that many yards in the villages were almost barren. All the fruit trees had been chopped down and there was hardly anything planted.{{more}} I had great difficulty finding things like sugar apple or soursop trees, guavas, golden apple, plumrose, etc. As a child, I remember so many varieties of mango – paul over, debique, starch, turpentine, agouti, macrabou, black mango, cattle tongue, calabash, ten shillings, Johnny loman, horse, red breast — but it was difficult to find many of those trees still standing.

Some of these were lost to banana cropping; however, some were lost because of the practice of planting the new grafted variety of mango and other fruits. We must remember that the practice of grafting generally requires rootstock and such rootstock has to come from mango, avocado and citrus stock whose seed would germinate. Therefore, it is essential that we maintain the old stock so that we could indeed continue to produce the grafted stock. It would be a pity if we end up in a position of having to import rootstock in order to continue to have a supply of grafted stock.

Grafted stock is generally good, because they produce a crop in quick time and the crop can be geared to the export market, using varieties that are widely popular. However, there could be a local market for the traditional varieties and in the case of juice production, the variety is not that important. I know many a Vincentian who, on return to SVG for a vacation, would rather get traditional fruit varieties than the grafted stock that they can generally buy in their adopted lands. Some grafted stock and new varieties are not necessarily better than the traditional varieties. I encountered the new wax apple; I was not enamoured, and I would rather have a ripe, juicy plumrose. I also encountered the new grafted golden apple. Yes, it produces fruit in bunches on very short trees, but the fruit are tiny and the flavour just does not compare to the traditional golden apple.

I remember as a child going for a walk with calabash in hand and returning home with carila picked along the roadside. I could not find any carila along the roads that I walked on my last visit to SVG. With so few kitchen gardens, there was no food for the home table and nothing to exchange with the neighbours. People now seem resigned to make a trip into the market in Kingstown to buy all the things that were once grown on the doorstep or obtained in trade from the neighbours. They leave breadfruit on their own trees and returned from Kingstown with a roasted breadfruit. Yes, it is nice to have buying power, but it is even better to have a bit of self-reliance.

When I visited the local supermarket, I saw all of the same brands of food that I purchase weekly here in Edmonton. I also saw fruits such as Bartlett pears at extremely high prices. I would have preferred to be able to buy a large golden apple or a few sugar apples. Here in Edmonton we pay four dollars for a sugar apple, imported from south Asia, and six to twelve dollars for a breadfruit imported from Fiji. Surely, Vincentian farmers could crop sugar apples and breadfruit for export! I am often amazed at the ingenuity of the south Asian markets. I can buy frozen boiled sweet potato that I just warm up in an oven when I get home. I buy cassava doucouna, yes, wrapped in banana leaves, that I just warm in a steamer, and I often wonder, why are these products not from St Vincent.

I guess my lament is that yes, progress is inevitable. It is wonderful to see the many new homes, but we need not cut down every tree and we should consider that trees can beautify the landscape and fruit trees are a valuable food source and can provide supplemental income. Growing local foods gives us the advantage of being less reliant on imported foods or on shopping at the local markets. There is pleasure to be gained from just walking out into the garden and returning with the ingredients for a meal — try it, you may be pleasantly surprised. Yes, embrace progress, enjoy your purchasing power, but we need not be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

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