The 7th NG Understanding and Assistance Mission to the Caribbean 2019
The 2019 Understanding and assistance mission ran in Mid-November for just over two weeks, 6 Next Generation delegates visited 7 counties witnessing the best that Caribbean agriculture had to offer. The Caribbean is a corner of the Commonwealth never visited by the RASC before so as well as our usual objectives of learning and sharing knowledge, this was also an opportunity to build relationships and get to know RASC members in that part of the world.
The Mission started in Europe, delegates congregated in Paris and flew from Orly airport to Guadeloupe where their first night was spent. Early the next morning delegates boarded a catamaran and set sail to Antigua, to start their mission. On the island of Antigua delegates witness their first taste of Caribbean livestock; sheep, goats and hens. The livestock that was viewed on Antigua was to an extremely high standard which was a pleasant surprise for delegates. Our guide on Antigua was a young farmer called Burger who kept goats however his main job was working in one of the large hotels on the island, we found it very common for farmers to have a secondary job mainly in tourism to create a steady income. The livestock delegates were shown were on particularly progressive farms, farmers were putting a lot of thought into their management systems and our biggest finding was that they were sourcing genetics from outside the Caribbean, predominantly the United States and Africa. Farmers kept their stock inside during the day when the temperatures were high and then allowed them to graze pastures at night when it was cooler farmers had taken into consideration the nutrition, management and health to a very high standard.
The second island we visited on the Mission was St Kitts and Nevis our host on this island was from the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) we witnessed how the island’s agriculture had moved from a predominantly sugar cane based industry to a much more varied growing platform. On the historical sugar cane fields we saw wide scale integrated farming predominantly different crops grown in rotation for appropriate soil nutrition and pest control with a lot of produce sold at local markets. We also witnessed the Rastafarian movement and how they farm, they had strong principles surrounding organic agriculture and strictly speaking they are vegetarian therefore the protein in their diet from various sources including beans, pulses and nuts. One of the farmer’s biggest pests on the island were the Green tail monkeys who would devour whole crops of fruits and vegetables. The monkeys are incredibly intelligent making it very hard for farmers to protect their crops. Sadly, there is no official program to control the monkeys as they were hugely beneficial to the government as a tourist attraction.
The third island on our mission was Montserrat which was the smallest island on the mission. Jane Guise who had been fundamental in helping design the Mission and a previous trustee of the RASC had spent a number of years living on the island so she was our host. Monserrat has a wide variety of agricultural enterprises we witnessed livestock and crop farming. One of Jane’s projects when she was there was implementing the running of a modern, purpose built abattoir. On Monserrat we also witnessed farming in the face of natural disaster Montserrat used to have a booming population of 30,000 and due to the eruption of a volcano two decades ago they now have a population of only 5000, one third of the island is still considered too dangerous to enter so land is limited.
After Monserrat the delegates enjoyed 36 hours of rest and relaxation in Guadalupe before embarking on a public ferry and heading to Dominica. Here, delegates witnessed the effects of natural disaster this time a hurricane which destroyed huge parts of the island and generations of work had on farms and livestock holdings. The knock-on effects of the hurricane have meant that the younger generation are extremely cautious of entering the farming industry and therefore there is now an ageing population of farmers on the island. Dominica is known for being particularly fertile and delegates witnessed the largest range of crops grown in relatively island large scale enterprises crops are marketed domestically and internationally. One positive that had emerged after the hurricane for Dominica was agri-tourism farmers were opening their farms to tourists for tours or residential stays.
The final island on the mission that delegates visited was St Lucia. Once again delegates were shown round the island by CARDI who are doing great work with farmers on the island. Historically Saint Lucia had a rich heritage in bananas known as “green gold” but due to WTO rules the banana industry had gone into decline, other parts of the world could produce bananas more competitively. This had led farmers to diversify and look into other crops, an example delegates visited was a large farm growing a range of salad crops for KFC. Delegates also visited and Aqua culture enterprise wear a number of poly tunnels had been set up and vertical beds of vegetables grown, irrigated with rain water which filtered through the soil to a bottom tray where fish fed on the excess nutrient. Delegates also saw cocoa production and freshly cut flowers for the hotels.
As a conclusion delegates were overwhelmed with the range of crops grown in the Caribbean, the climate allowed for huge varieties of fruit and vegetables to be grown in integration with livestock. Limiting factors were access to markets and knowledge combined with the continual threat of natural disaster. There is huge potential in the Caribbean for agriculture to grow and diversify, we hope that in a number of years the Next Generation can revisit the Caribbean and see how agriculture has progress in that time.
Following the trip, the group have remained in contact with each other and with people they met on the mission.
Take a look at some of the photos taken in the gallery below: