Monday, October 27, 2008

Aggie Week on SVG

27 OCTOBER 2008
The 8th Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) - Who has the hottest pepper?

I have just come back from the Caribbean where I attended the 8th Caribbean Week of Agriculture which took place in St Vincent and the Grenadines. I would like to start this post by sharing some interesting quotes with you: 

“Farmers should be given the respect that they deserve” 
“The agricultural sector is crying for investment”
The Hon. Dr. Jerrol Thompson, St Vincent 

“Commercial banks do not recognise agriculture as a viable business and insurance companies do not cover the risk that farmers have to accept”
The Hon Montgomery Daniel, St Vincent and the Grenadines

- "Eat what you produce and produce what you eat"

- "There is an urgent need for more and better leadership in order to stop “doing business as usual"
Dr Chelston Brathwait

- "It is necessary to facilitate trading of agricultural produce"

Prof Al Binger’s presentation on the “Implementation of the Caribbean Renewable Energy, energy Effficiency and Bioenergy Action Program (CREBAP) provided fantastic statistical evidence showing the potential role that agriculture and bio-energies could play in the Caribbean. He calculated that the production of sweeteners from sugarcane at current prices earns around one billion $ US/year. If instead the sugarcane was transformed into ethanol it would earn three billion $ US – three times more. 

According to him the region spends 16 billion $ US/year for importing energy, mainly fossil oils. Many of it is used for producing electricity which could easily be produced by various sources of bio-energies. However, most striking is the fact that roughly 60 % of the electricity is wasted amongst others by pumping water into a leaking water pipeline system resulting in a loss of around one gallon on two. Consequently, improving energy efficiency is of utmost importance to the region he said.

Al Binger warns that every year some 10 million tons of fertile top soils are washed away and gets on the Caribbean coral reeves. The solution to mitigate this soil erosion could be planting vetiver grass along the contour lines. 10 million tons means some 330.000 truck loads of 30 tons. How long will it probably take until all top soils will be washed away?

In conjunction with soil care the potential for producing organic fertilizer was raised. By simple composting the Caribbean region could replace important quantities of imported fertilizer where prices were also skyrocketing in the recent past. Before World War II the Caribbean grew organic products because of lack of fertilizer recalled Dr. Brathwait from IICA. Biogas plants using animal manure produce also very valuable organic fertilizer. 

Al Binger’s figures on wasted food are striking: in Caribbean hotels some 40 % of the food is not recovered, is not used as animal feed or converted into fertilizer. I think the region has a great brain here and hopefully listens carefully to his solutions. And finally he taught us that – astonishing enough - Iceland is Europe’s biggest banana producer thanks to geothermal energy. Hand on heart - would you have known that?

In parallel to the CWA, IICA, CARDI, the CARICOM Secretariat, CTA and the MoAFF St. Vincent organised a two days “Agriculture Round Table” (ART) with very interesting presentations and debates around the theme: “Caribbean Agriculture in Development Policy Agenda – Connecting, Communicating and Cooperating to secure our Caribbean Agri-Culture!”

During this ART session we were all fascinated by Dr. Gillian Doddard’s presentation from Trinidad Sun Eaters Organics. She spends her money first of all for quality food – organic of course. As she did not find it available in Trinidad shops she started the business herself and very, very successfully though. It is the first enterprise of this nature for fresh organic produce, organic meals, recycling and composted waste. 

On my way back from St. Vincent and the Grenadines I had to transit in Barbados and wanted to spend my remaining EC $ (East Caribbean Dollars) and do some shopping there. Well, I couldn’t as most shops would not accept EC $. While Barbados is geographically the Caribbean island located at the extreme east of the Caribbean, it is not part of the East Caribbean (EC) $ group, it has its own Barbados dollar. Finally, we found a bar that accepted EC $ for some local hop brew…. to soothe over the Caribbean diversity.