Farmers praying for rains as persistent dry spell hurts food crops
The intense dry season, that is causing an abnormal breakout of fires across Barbados, is wreaking even greater havoc on the agriculture sector.
Produce such as sweet potatoes, beans and cristophene are now scarce, according to farmers; and they say Barbadians will soon have to pay more for their produce if the dry spell affecting the country continues for much longer.
Natalie Harewood, of Melrose, St Thomas, who has been involved in farming for 34 years, said she had resorted to buying from other farmers and importing produce to make a living, a practice she had been forced to do in recent years.
“Once I don’t get rain, I can’t do farming because I’m a rain-fed farmer. I don’t have any kind of water; so it affects me six months a year; the other six months I do farming,” she explained.
“Right now I’m preparing the ground for the rainy seasons. I start to plant the yams, and the seeds are bursting; but I think the rain would be coming sooner than what they think. I believe in the Lord. If we don’t get rain soon, there’s going to be a food shortage. We’ll have to buy things more dear.”
Richard Armstrong, the managing director of ARMAG Farms, said prices for some produce had already gone up.
“There has been an increase in prices . . . months ago. Ground provision for sure. Sweet potatoes are probably at its highest price now than [they would be at] this time of the year, and yams are fairly high-priced.”
His farm, based in St Philip, utilizes a well system as well as multimillion-dollar irrigation equipment that transports water from 120 feet below the ground to the fields, some as far as a mile way.
The cost of growing crops has quadrupled, he said.
“Obviously we get better prices for the produce this time of the year even though the cost is higher. Because we are one of the few people who can grow things like these at this time of year; the market is here,” he said.
”Most of the things we grow love rainwater and they don’t so much respond to irrigation water so even though you’re giving them as much water as [they would get when it] rains, it doesn’t translate into the same yields. The vegetables like the rainwater.”
Asked about the shortage, he said: “There’s no two ways about that. The farmers, who have irrigation are stretched to keep things going. But potatoes are scarce; yams are getting scarce; cassava is relatively plentiful because that can handle some drought conditions.”
Chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul, also commented on the impact of the dry weather conditions, saying farmers throughout the entire country were suffering.
“For those crops that are grown a lot in the non-irrigated areas, you could see a reduction in the quantity of vegetables available, and right now the amount of water that we use even in the areas that we have irrigation would increase; so you would not get the type of efficiency that you would get in the wet season. That in itself will probably drive up the cost of production for farmers,” he said.
The weather patterns have been closely monitored by the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) where Adrian Trotman serves as the chief of applied meteorology and climatology.
He said the dry season would likely end later than average, causing conditions to persist well into June, if not longer.
“What we’ve been having over the last couple months particularly since April and now into almost the entire period of May is a great deficit in the rainfall and we would expect this to impact particularly farming. The dry season hasn’t been as long as is typical because we had a fairly wet January and into the first ten days of February. So the wet season ended later; and what we’re seeing is the dry season is intense with suspected deficiency in rainfall and that is expected to continue for a bit longer.”
This forecast is in line with information obtained from the Barbados Official Meteorological Services.
An official at that agency told Barbados TODAY that forecast models indicated that residents should expect a lower than average rainy season, which begins in June.
This has been linked to conditions in the Pacific due to the El Nino phenomenon, Trotman said.
At the same time, he said, Barbados should have enough water to carry residents though the period.