Barbadians have been put on notice of a possible shortage of some basic food crops early next year, if current drought conditions persist.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) James Paul has cautioned that the situation is approaching a very worrying level, and is not likely to improve any time soon.
“Unless we receive above normal rains during the period of November, December and going into January, farmers will have severe difficulties,” Paul told Barbados TODAY.
The BAS head went on to reveal that farmers were already experiencing difficulties with production, adding that certain vegetable crops, such as pumpkin — especially those grown in non-irrigated areas — stood to be severely affected.
Paul also said green crops, such as lettuce, which need water to grow, were also likely to be in short supply as a result of the current drought.
“Even to start a crop you need at least some rainfall especially in the non rain fed areas. Sweet potatoes, root crops, they are going to need water,” noted Paul.
With respect to the dairy industry, the farmers’ spokesman said hopes of increasing local production from four million kilogrammes of milk, by another 20 per cent by yearend, would not be realized as a result of the lack of rainfall.
He explained that while it was normal to have “dry spells” every year, since last August “it has gone haywire and this is quite a worrying thing for the farmers”.
Paul said the situation should serve as a wake up call to authorities and residents that there was need for better water management and conservation measures.
He also called for emergency measures to be put in place, saying he was surprised that policymakers “have not looked at and thought of addressing this matter of drought next year”.
“We are very worried at this time in respect to the drought. We were hoping that now we should have seen some rains coming in on a more consistent basis, [but] this is just not happening.
“I anticipate that we can see a very difficult time next year for the agriculture sector as a result of the lack of rain at this time,” said Paul, who is anticipating millions of dollars in losses.
The BAS head said the farmers’ body was putting measures of its own in place to mitigate the impact. He explained that it was currently working on an arrangement with companies that produce brown water, which can be treated for use in the agriculture sector.
In a separate interview, Chairman of the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN) Senator Norman Grant called on Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to discuss the drought situation.
“Drought has begun to have a greater effect on farming in the region than was hurricane,” said Grant.
“Last year drought affected about 18,000 farmers in Jamaica and cost the agriculture sector JA$1 billion [approximately 17 million Barbados dollars]. By its action it really stymied growth within the domestic agriculture,” warned Grant.
“We need CARICOM and the governments of the region to build in the type of framework that is required to alleviate this issue if we are going to increase our domestic production, if we are going to reduce our imports, create more wealth for the rural people and the farmers, and if agriculture is going to be sustainable,” he argued.
Grant, who is also the president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), told Barbados TODAY CaFAN was working with all the 14 members states to lobby the governments and ministries of agriculture to provide more support for the farmers.
He said strategies such as rainwater harvesting, the distribution of water tanks, the creation of mini dams, greater promotion of greenhouse and hydroponics farming were being used to combat the drought conditions.
“We think it is something that has impacted production in a significant way in the region and it is also affecting our abilities to reduce this US$5 billion worth of food that we import in the region,” he said, pointing out that the drought condition was widespread across the region.