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Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), James Paul.

Farmers Fearful

Concern that drought conditions could lead to big losses

Reports that drought-like conditions are expected to persist through the first half of the year are concerning agricultural stakeholders in this country, who fear that the sector in general could suffer great losses.

Last Friday, Climatologist Dr. Cedric Van Meerbeeck noted that in February to April – usually the driest months of the year – the impact of the drought is likely to slowly deepen. As a result, he said, there is a greater chance of plants withering, increased risk of fire and crop yields also being impacted.

Reflecting on such predictions, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), James Paul, said the farming community is looking at ways to mitigate against the continued water shortages. Paul said that even though the farmers have no control over the weather, they have a duty, in order to meet the country’s food requirements, to ensure that they are employing techniques that could guarantee a steady water supply, especially in drought conditions.

“The drought conditions will affect us especially in areas that we rely on the rain where we have rainfed agriculture. So some crops may be impacted and there is no rain falling right now as you can clearly see. This reduced rainfall will negatively impact potential crop yields, both in terms of the quantity and quality of that produce. It is only in the irrigated areas that we might see the production of the same quality, but it could affect the quantity of vegetables for example that would be available,” he explained.

Paul added that not only are crops likely to be impacted, but livestock yields as well, if the animals do not get the necessary forage. He said given that the first few months of the year are usually the driest there is the risk of grass fires, which he explained, could reduce the grass supply required for livestock. To that end, he said such farmers must be proactive.

“We have got to make sure that we harvest whatever grass is available, because certainly if these conditions persist as they are expecting in the early part of the year, we could have the problem of not having enough fodder for the animals. When it gets really dry we tend to get grass fires and we can have pastures being destroyed, which of course would also reduce the amount of land available for grazing by animals. So we have to start storing in order to ensure that we don’t run short of that and of course the other issue would be water. I don’t know how we would deal with that, but we have to explore all options there as well,” he stated.

He added, “The environmental conditions are not something that we can do anything about, so I think what we need to do is to recognise what they are and use whatever mitigating measures we can to lessen the negative impact”.

With that in mind, he said serious consideration should be given to using water harvesting techniques and possibly even using wastewater from some manufacturing enterprises to help meet farmers’ water needs. Paul said that such wastewater can be recycled and used it for irrigation purposes.

“We also have to place emphasis on soil covering. With the reduce rainfall mulching is going to be very important so that we are more efficient in the use of water and help to retain the moisture. We have to explore various techniques to survive drought conditions, and encourage innovation in these areas,” he stated. (JRT)

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