Nearly forty farmers from across Saint Lucia on Tuesday, September 13 benefited from a demonstration hosted by the Taiwan Technical Mission (TTM) on how to plant, care for, and market eggplant.
The two-hour demonstration was held at the TMM’s demonstration farm in Union, Castries, where experts from the TTM shared crucial information with farmers, including answering the many questions they asked. Also present at the demonstration were staffers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food Security and Rural Development, Massy Stores, and Saint Lucia Marketing Board.
On display were eight species of eggplant sourced from the nearby plot that farmers got to witness firsthand how to care and manage the crop. Participants also got to take home some of the varieties on display to prepare and were asked to give feedback.
Eric Chen, Production Specialist at the Taiwan Technical Mission, said the Taiwan Technical Mission is trying to reduce the high importation of fruits and vegetables into Saint Lucia so as to shrink the island’s high food import bill.
“This is the fourth year we’ve been doing so and we’re now into the second phase of the project,” Chen said. “Eggplant is one of the focal crops in the second phase because it’s really easy to grow here. I would say it’s a beginner’s crop, so by planting eggplants, we can easily reduce the food import bill.”
Chen said many farmers and consumers do not know how to prepare eggplant, which is why a special event will be hosted in Constitution Park in Castries on September 27 to demonstrate how to prepare eggplant in various ways.
“It’s a very nutritious crop, so more people need to know about it and appreciate it more,” said Chen.
Like Chen, Perishables Manager at Massy Stores (St. Lucia), Dunstan Demille, believes that the education on the nutritional profile of eggplant needs to continue.
“We have to let people know the many ways to prepare eggplant,” he said. “It’s also a good opportunity now for farmers to get into the production of these varieties that can do well at the stores and other entities.”
Demille noted that some of the eggplant varieties have been great sellers at the popular supermarket chain. However, he urged farmers to continue aiming for top quality so as to encourage customers to purchase the popular vegetable.
“We’re looking to the future with great hope that we see some of these products on our shelves and our consumers buying more, which will continue the cycle,” said Demille. “People choose what to buy at our stores. So we have to be careful what we buy. We don’t buy products we can’t afford to sell.”
Vincent La Corbiniere, General Manager of the Saint Lucia Marketing Board, thanked the Taiwan Technical Mission for organizing the eggplant demonstration, noting that dialogue with farmers is something that the Marketing Board always welcomes.
“From a production and marketing perspective, our farmers need a lot more information about the markets and what consumers want on a regular basis,” La Corbiniere said. “Certainly, with a food import bill that runs into hundreds of millions of dollars every year, we definitely can do much more to produce more.”
La Corbiniere added that the Marketing Board is prepared to work with farmers, but with a different strategy.
“We need to know, for example, what the farmers have, in what volume, when were the crops planted, and what were the challenges with the crops,” he explained. “When we have this information, we can prepare better for the market.”
Meanwhile, Nicholas Ambrose, a farmer who currently plants tomatoes, cucumbers, chives and peppers, said the demonstration was a beneficial exercise that needs to be replicated throughout the island to reach more farmers.
“I’m not yet into the production of eggplant, but I’m thinking of trying it in the future,” Ambrose stated. “The demonstration was very fruitful because I learned about the different varieties and the market demands for the crop.”
Another farmer, Dorothy Monfier from Babonneau, has been engaged in farming for about five years now, planting eggplants, lettuce, celery, and chives. She, too, said she gained more knowledge on how to better cultivate her eggplants.
“The demonstration was very informative and I think they should do it more often,” said Monfier. “Today I learned how to prune, fertilize and irrigate my eggplants.”
The eggplant demonstration formed part of the “Enhancement of Efficiency in the Production-Distribution Supply Chain of the Fruit and Vegetable Sector Project (Second Term)”, more commonly known as the “Seven Crops Project”. Since its inception, there has seen an increase in the production of the selected seven crops, the revitalization of agriculture intelligence information systems, the establishment of stable markets for farmers, and the introduction of new technologies, all with the goal of lowering Saint Lucia’s food import bill.