By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (IPS) – Even as weather extremes bedevil Caribbean farmers, Ramgopaul Roop has turned his three-acre fruit farm into a showcase for how to beat climate change.
His conservation farming methods include water harvesting and growing lemon grass as mulch. Since the grass is also a weed, it discourages the growth of other harmful weeds without the use of herbicides.
“Because of the system using lemon grass and pommecythere trees growing lower than the lime trees, my land is covered with vegetation, so that we can adapt to climate changes,” Roop told IPS.
“If it is hot, we have this natural mulch under the crop. If it is raining, it helps to reduce the soil erosion,” he explained.
Roop is now the regional administrator for the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA), an organization mandated by the 15-member regional grouping Caricom to work with regional farmers’ groups to find agroprocessing opportunities.
CABA serves as a collective voice for farmers in the region through advocacy and assistance with trade negotiations.
Roop, who has farmed in Trinidad for 25 years, said that compliance with a country’s environmental regulations is key to success. This has proven true in the case of his own property, Rocrops Agrotech, which is used as a model farm by Trinidad and Tobago’s Environmental Management Authority.
His strategies have enabled Rocrops to supply agroprocessors with 10,000–12,000 limes weekly, 52 weeks a year, over the past five years.
“If farmers adopted the methods that I have implemented, they would be able to develop small holder farms to produce year-round to increase their level of production so that they could fulfil commitments to processing facilities,” he said.
“Small-holding farms can be developed into a sustainable unit that can be passed on to the next generation,” Roop added.
Across the region, Caribbean farmers are seeking reliable climate data to help them make better decisions when planning their crops. To meet this demand, the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP) are training meteorologists to interact directly with farmers to provide accurate, timely information on weather patterns.
Monthly or trimonthly agricultural bulletins also discuss the possible effects on agriculture of the weather forecasted by the agro-metereologists.
Jamaica has also launched a website dedicated to providing twice-daily weather forecasts for farmers. Farmers can plug in the name of their location for detailed information on temperature, humidity, wind speed and other relevant data.
The training of the agrometereologists and the publishing of the bulletins are part of a larger EU-ACP project known as the Caribbean Agrometereological Initiative (CAMI), whose aim is to improve agricultural productivity in the region through the “improved dissemination and application of weather and climate information using an integrated and coordinated approach.”
CAMI’s partners include the Caribbean Institute for Metereology and Hydrology and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), among others.
Dr. Lesley Simpson said that Caribbean farmers have been in dire need of “access to information about what is happening and what is expected to happen with regard to climate change, and then information on how they can deal with these changes and risks.”
Farmers at workshops co-sponsored by CARDI “always asked, ‘When do we plant? When is the rain going to start?’” said Dr. Simpson, who is the natural resources management specialist with responsibility for climate change at CARDI.
The region’s increasing climate variability and the effects of climate change are making it difficult for farmers to determine when best to plant their crops, since the type of crop planted at a given time of year depends on the amount of rain expected then.
Region-wide discussions with farmers revealed that the foremost needs were for seasonal and inter-annual climate forecasts, forecasting for crop disease and pest incidence, and user-friendly weather and climate information.
Dr. Simpson said that “dealing with the variability of the present weather situation is the first step [for farmers] in dealing with any future climate change.”
CAMI notes that, “Short-range forecasts are normally available one day in advance, but modern agricultural practices …require weather forecasts with higher lead time which enable the farmers to take ameliorative measures.
“Thus, for the agricultural sector, location-specific weather forecast in the medium range (three to 10 days in advance) is very important. These forecasts and advisories should be made available in a language that farmers can understand.”
A second CARDI project now underway to help Caribbean farmers deal with climate change is being sponsored by the European Development Fund and administered by the ACP. This project is to help identify strains of crops that would be resilient to climate variability and climate change.
Dr. Arlington Chesney, CARDI’s executive director, told IPS that the project would focus firstly on starches and vegetable protein since “those are critical components of the diet of the majority of people in the region.”
Among the crops identified for research are sweet potato, cassava, corn, peas and beans. Dr. Chesney said the project has done a review of the soil types and changes in temperatures and rainfall patterns in various islands over the past 20 years, preparatory to selecting the crop varieties for investigation.
“We would try to characterize these varieties morphologically and genomically. We are looking at their DNA to determine if there are some inherent characteristics that are more resilient to climate change so that we could, with time, have a group of these varieties that we could say have a better than average chance of doing well under these new [climate] conditions,” Dr. Chesney said.
Much of the DNA work will be done by CARDI’s European partner in the project, the Wageningen University in Holland, which is considered one of the foremost agricultural universities in that country.
The university “will also do matching between the DNA crop performance and ecological measurements, temperatures, and rainfall,” said Dr. Chesney. CARDI will be providing mainly logistical and technical support on the project.
Dr. Chesney, like CAMI, stresses that his organization’s work on equipping farmers to cope with climate change seeks to ensure the region’s food supply by improving farmers’ standard of living.
Photo credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS.