by Latoya Burnham
A newly formed farmers organisation is trying to tackle the elusive cost of living issue through the promotion of sustainable practices it hopes will help with the purchase of organic foods cheaper.
Additionally, founder of the Farmers Association of Barbados Deborah Hunte, says they are working with a telecoms provider to create a trackable database of food and livestock quantities, and with a private security firm to cut down on issues of praedial larceny.
Big on ideas for the association she plans to launch early next month, Hunte, speaking after she participated in a stakeholders meeting at UN House with the UNDP’s Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme to create the country’s strategic plan for funding, said today’s forum actually addressed some key issues.
“I believe in empowerment, so I am seeking to empower the farmers through educational, technological and financial resources. By extension a lot of us have been practising bad practices over the years, so I am looking to change that by educating us along the lines of organic farming in ways of how to better utilise our natural resources — water, wind, solar energy.
“I am looking to reinvent farming, take it to a better level than where it is right now. I just think how we practise farming right now we will always remain stagnant unless we capitalise on these things — we will all keep doing it in vain,” she told Barbados TODAY.
She said there were several techniques already in operation across the island, varying from permaculture to aquaculture, and organisations representing these interest that could work together to guide the agricultural sector forward. It was however a case of some farmers not tapping into the knowledge already out there to enhance their practices and products, she noted.
“In an effort to change all that, all the information that has been made readily available to us, we would like to share within the organisation. I have farmers who have already started making their own organic pesticides because to buy them is very, very expensive.
“To my mind, once I can get the cost of producing our foods in an organic way reduced, then by extension those savings will be passed on to the consumer as well, and again by extension, the food import bill will not be such a horror as it is now. So the benefits will be derived by all and not just the farmers,” she pointed out.
Hunte said her organisation already had 50 farmers expressing interest, and they were hoping eventually to tackle contracts like the School Meals Service and other Government agencies to supply produce that is free of harmful pesticides, organically and locally grown and nutritious.
She said recognising that many farmers were plagued by praedial larceny, she had been engaged in discussions with a private security firm looking at how they could utilise new technologies like tagging of produce and wireless security systems to help protect farmers’ output.
Additionally, she said there were also issues of scarcity and gluts that she hoped a digital project she was working on with a local telecoms company would help reduce. She said through a well-managed digital cataloguing system, FAB would keep track of what was being produced, where it was being produced and the quantities, so the island could better manage issues of scarcity or gluts of certain commodities.
This system, she forecast too, would help them pinpoint which areas of the island were better for producing different crops and hopefully help steer farmers in that direction to become profitable. She said she was also working with someone to introduce micro-organisms that could make the soils more resistant to drought, pests and some of the other issues that affect farmers.
“You can’t fix a problem by just treating the symptoms. You have to get to the root of the problem and the root is that a lot of farmers don’t know how to go about doing certain things. Some of them are trying, but then they meet a lot of barriers, financial and otherwise, pertaining to the non-availability of products, then we have all this other bureaucratic tape, the lack of funding… etc,” she said.
She stressed though that the association was not just for produce farmers, but she had interest from those supplying meat and meat products as well. The GEF SGP forum she said had introduced her to other farming entities that she would look to link with, as well as spread the word about the opportunity for grants to create projects that could lead to business developments.