IN the Caribbean, we are fortunate enough to be able to grow our own food. Our landscapes tend to be made of fertile, arable lands capable of sustainable food production. Our ancestors passed farming and fishing practices and traditions to us over many generations. St Lucia is no stranger to agriculture and is even more blessed to have volcanic soils which can produce just about any tropical crop with limited inputs.
As a Small Island Developing state, we are responsible for ensuring that our people are healthy and given every opportunity to not experience hunger. The United Nations Sustainable Development goals include: #2 Zero Hunger, #3 Good Health and Well-being and #12 Responsible Consumption and Production. As a nation, it is our responsibility to encourage and teach our people as conceptualized by Nyerere in 1968, how to achieve national self-reliance.
Historically, bananas and sugarcane paved the path for economic growth in our region and resulted in much wealth and sustained livelihoods. However, as trade agreements and laws changed over the years, preferential treatment was lost and diversity of production was introduced. Our agricultural practices continue to evolve into farming several commodities rather than one. A few of these include: Roots and tubers, vegetables, fruits, livestock, poultry and fish. We can as individuals, select a combination of these commodities and produce them for home use through backyard gardening. These plots should include a climate resilient species to ensure food security in times of natural disasters. For example, cassava and sweet potato are two very tolerant species to changing weather and climatic patterns. In 2017 in Dominica, cassava survived after environmental devastation by Hurricane Maria. Similarly, in 2019 in The Bahamas, sweet potato survived Hurricane Dorian’s impact. These staples can allow us to ensure that food is available for our people even in the aftermath of natural disasters. It is imperative that we aim to encourage each household to grow some of these roots and tubers in small backyard gardens in addition to other vegetables and fruits. An animal or some chickens can also contribute protein through a meat source, as well as help maintain healthy soil through animal manure.
We can indeed utilize the rich, fertile soils on which we live, to feed our people and ensure that no child, man or woman is left hungry. The ‘hard foods’ are rich in fiber and excellent to help control high cholesterol levels and reduce onset of diabetes. Orange, yellow and purple sweet potato fleshed varieties are good sources of antioxidants and Vitamin A and can eliminate specific deficiencies in our diets while strengthening immune systems. Of course, we must consume responsibly through adequate proportions to meet dietary requirements. Over indulgence can lead to unhealthy bodies and lives.
Short term cash crops like sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, beans, spinach and fruits like watermelon, pineapple, banana, citrus, golden apple among others can be grown to contribute to the mineral and vitamin intake of our families. Healthy bodies and minds contribute to every country’s workforce and productivity thereby increasing economic sustainability. A combination of the correct proportions of vegetables, fruits, staples, meats and water creates a healthy diet and can achieve a healthy population with #zero hunger. We can achieve this as a developing nation if we take responsibility for our health and well-being. We can start producing food for our homes through small backyard plots. We can look at the cycle of food production holistically, incorporating several aspects to ensure healthy food, healthy people and healthy environments. We can utilize good agricultural practices, composting, use of green and animal manure, reduced chemical inputs and rain water harvesting. The adults in the households can lead this venture and involve the children so that family farming is also integrated.
A little bit goes a long way and can lead to national self-reliance where a country does not need to rely on food imports. Imagine the health and gain that can come from the therapy of taking care of a backyard garden, and the satisfaction in knowing exactly what you are eating, where it came from and what inputs were added to achieve food for each household’s table. To achieve #zero hunger, we must take responsibility and develop national self-reliance through sustainable production of our own food in every backyard.
The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute can provide on request, any backyard/family farming guidance needed in achieving these goals. Please contact our office at 453-3317 or email us at email@example.com if needed.