Barbados is working hard to ensure access to water resources for agriculture to withstand the longer periods of drought that are likely due to climate change, explained Indar Weir, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security of the Caribbean country, during an interview with Agro América, a program broadcast on the Brazilian TV channel AgroMais.
“Water is a serious problem for food production in Barbados and one of the greatest challenges facing farmers. To combat this, we’re building reservoirs across the island to ensure the availability of water during the dry season”, explained the minister. In Barbados, the dry season is the boreal winter and spring, after which hurricane season sets in.
“If we can improve water catchment during the rainy season, which starts in June, we can improve the water supply for the next dry season. In urban areas, we are installing a reservoir system to harvest 80 million liters of water. On the east side of the island, we’re building two dams—one for 27 million liters and one for 88 million liters—to ensure a permanent supply for farmers. In the north, the most rural part of the island, we’re cleaning sweet water wells and are considering building another dam for farmers. Obviously, that would mean a significant investment and we’re analyzing how to guarantee it”, explained Weir.
The minister revealed that the Barbadian agricultural sector grew by 1.9% last year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, mostly due to good planning. However, that hasn’t been the case in 2021: “We were hit by another strain of Covid-19 and were forced to pause economic activity in the country. Tourism is far from its usual levels, which has impacted our farmers who started to reduce their crops”.
Weir also commented on the impact on Barbadian agriculture of the eruption of La Soufrière on neighboring Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in April of last year. He said that while agriculture was suspended for a few days and crops were lost, the minerals and nitrates brought by the ash could improve the long-term fertility of the soil.
“We’re lucky because there are positive aspects to the ash. In the short term, the impact is worrying, as the sugarcane and cotton crops were affected, but in the long-term, we could see an increase in production. The ash integrates into the soil and improves its acidity. I think we’ll see the benefits of the ash as soon as next year. Scientists and technicians agree that it is good for agriculture, like another form of fertilizer. We ran some tests and we’re satisfied with the results”, he said.
The minister also commented on the role of technology and innovation in improving agricultural production in Barbados: “Our farmers are interested in technology. We’re considering using drones for spraying and to monitor crop conditions”.
To that end, Weir underscored the support the agricultural sector in Barbados has received from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA): “We have received a lot of technical support. The Institute has been involved in training our young people and in developing apiculture—we have many more beekeepers today. They are also working on sanitary and phytosanitary measures”.
“IICA is at the forefront and we are now developing an Innovation Center within the Ministry of Agriculture—a project led by the Institute—to provide technical assistance for the Ministry to operate at the high level required in the 21st century”, he added.
Barbados is paying special attention to the impact of climate change on agriculture, placing an emphasis on achieving climate-smart agriculture that is resilient to extreme climate events and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“We’re analyzing how our production can be more resistant within this complicated scenario. Part of that is moving toward hydroponic systems and farms powered by renewable energy. We’re also trying to promote a transition from open-field agriculture, which often uses irrigation systems in Barbados, to vertical farming. Freight farming can ensure shorter cultivation times and increased yield. We’re looking to attract young people to agriculture and we’re doing that through opportunities with contemporary farming and technology”, explained the minister.
Weir believes that hydroponics and freight farms hold special value for Barbados, as they use less water, thereby contributing not only to the environment, but also to lowering costs for farmers, and, ultimately, for consumers.
The official maintains that once Barbados is able to increase agricultural production, “the next step would be to establish a manufacturing sector. We want to move into agri-processing to expand our activities. For that, we need to train and empower our farmers and create new forms of entrepreneurship in agricultural communities”.
The minister also commented on the Farmers Anthem (A World of Farmers), where Barbadian singers joined IICA’s campaign in 2020 to recognize the farmers and workers across the food chain who helped to guarantee the availability of food throughout the pandemic.
“We felt it was right to honor our farmers, to motivate them and to help them grow and inspire others. Often, those working in agriculture go unrecognized”, concluded Weir.
Agro América is a program broadcast by the Brazilian network AgroMais TV (owned by Grupo Bandeirantes) and the result of an alliance with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
The program presents the reality of the agricultural sector and rural areas in IICA Member States with the aim to promote an exchange of experiences and a discussion on the challenges and opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean in the area of agricultural and rural development.