Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Growth challenges

There is an answer out there for everything … and if not, someone is sure to soon discover or invent it.

Recently in the news there has been a continued focus on the region’s resistance – or lack thereof – to the effects of climate change, whether those be direct environmental impacts such as increased famine, hurricanes and seismic activity, or indirect socio-economic considerations such as food and water shortages.

Each group of factors should be areas of real concern for Grenada and the wider region, yet it is the view of many that decision makers are not responding in the necessary manner to ensure that our economies are best poised to withstand or at least cope with the challenges.

The challenges are not unique to the Caribbean. Indeed, the entire world is faced with having to grow more food with a changing resource base, for example. Factors such as soil loss, air pollution due to industrialisation, deforestation (and in some cases reforestation), migration or extinction of critical players within the eco-system and the invasion of plant and animal diseases, are all issues that many countries have to confront. What makes the small island states of the Caribbean at risk is the limited landmass and non-production of certain basic items which make them dependent on countries with a greater agricultural and manufacturing base.

Countries such as Barbados, as was pointed out recently by historian Dr. Karl Watson, have shown particularly vulnerabilities (dating as far back as the 17th century) because of a highly dense population which has meant, despite the view held by some, that it was never in a position to adequately and entirely feed its own people... at least when it comes through farming in the traditional sense.

According to numbers provided by Dr. Watson, the numbers of estates on the island dropped from around 500 in the immediate post-Emancipation years to 280 by 1942, with 81 156 acres under food production. Today, over 60 years later, approximately 18 000 of land is under cultivation.

Land that has been reforested can be cultivated once more, but the trend is not so possible when a large portion of those bread baskets have been converted to real estate. How does one seek to grow more food with limited land?

The Inter-American Insititute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), in collaboration with other entities, has done extensive research and documentation in the area of soil-less agriculture; that is, growing food crops without soil. According to the literature, crops can still be grown without naturally occurring soil, as long as the basic requirements for optimal plant growth, such as air, moisture and nutrients, are provided. Soil-less technologies provide solutions for food production in areas where traditional soil-based production may be considered a significant threat to the sustainability of the soil or natural environment, or where there is an incapacity to meet production needs.

The main types of soil-less technologies being practised are hydroponics (where oxygenated and nutrient-enriched liquid is fed directly to the root base), areoponics (where nutrients for uptake are supplied through the surrounding atmosphere) and media culture (where soil is replaced with both organic and inorganic material ranging from foam and fiber to gravel, sawdust and sand).

The technologies mentioned above are not exhaustive and should be given greater consideration – not to be used exclusively – for adoption into the region’s farming practices.

As we opened in this discussion, there is seemingly a technological solution for every predicament. Sadly, the inclusion of technology to advance farming in the Caribbean is still glaringly inadequate, even to deal with basic production challenges. Meanwhile, other countries are advancing.

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