Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Samantha Marshall said that the lessons learnt from the recent flooding and the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic would only lead to further improvements in the agriculture industry in Antigua and Barbuda.
She made the point at the DG COVID-19 Response Singe Fund Project Productivity Capacity Building Training Workshop held yesterday (Tues) for Small Scale Farmers sponsored by IICA in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture
“The importance of this is that we have to ready ourselves; I think we have learnt a hard lesson through COVID and again we probably haven’t been listening well enough and so by the act of God, we have a situation of flooding.”
She said that the ministry is doing its part to assist farmers during these challenging times as scores of them have suffered losses or are experiencing other difficulties.
Minister Marshall also used the opportunity to public commend its partners that are working along with the ministry to assist the vulnerable and to expand the capacity of existing farmers who were not fully into farming but now have to be engaged in it due to the crisis.
“A lot of us who are housewives; single mothers, I think a lot of us have our own little backyard gardens now. I know a lot of us are using boxes, tyres whatever we can do; any little space and its simply because COVID has opened our eyes to the reality that things can be cut off from you and you won’t have the same access and then what you see being offered in some of the supermarkets, you better go and eat what you grow.”
The agriculture minister noted that covid-19 has underscored the importance of the need to refocus and to ensure that agriculture and tourism work hand in hand.
‘We are going to be inviting people to our shores; they don’t want to come and eat what they can get out of the states or wherever they came from. They must see, they must sample, they must appreciate what it is that we have to offer here, every single thing that we offer, including our agricultural production.”
Facilitator Ms. Julian-Ann Laudat said that the main aim of the workshop was to build farmers’ knowledge and skills in vegetable production, through innovative production strategies.
It was also designed to improve the availability and accessibility to food for vulnerable populations in Antigua and Barbuda affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through technical and material interventions to support commercial vegetable and livestock production.
“We will look at improving productivity, what are some of the strategies we need to employ, what is productivity, how it differs from production, farm risk management and mitigation measures.”
Senior extension officer, Mr. Owolabi Elabanjo addressed the importance of approaching agriculture as a business.
“When we are talking about the concept of productivity and production and enhancing our food security, what we would like our farmers to first and foremost understand is that agriculture of today is a business and business is agriculture. The concept of productivity today does not give room for wastage or mismanagement in agriculture.’
He said that getting good returns from their inputs is crucial.
Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) National Specialist, Craig Thomas said that his organization recognizes the challenges that farmers are experiencing with regards to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic and the recent flooding.
He said COVID-19 has brought to light the potential of small scale farmers in Antigua and Barbuda.
A few weeks ago, IICA presented a number of agricultural supplies such as drip lines, fertilizers, ProMix and seeds to a number of farmer and he has visited some of the farmers who have benefitted and was pleased to see how they have utilized the supplies to help boost production on their farms.
“What we would have done in terms of responding to the small scale farmers because of the COVID Pandemic, it’s working; we have seen the impact and we are seeing the results.”
Thomas said that the workshop allowed the farmers to share ideas so that when they return to their farms, the knowledge gained will help to strengthen their production.
He also pledged IICA’s continued support to the Ministry of Agriculture and the farmers in Antigua and Barbuda.
According to Thomas, the Ministry of Agriculture is in line for further assistance from IICA in a number of priority areas to include data research, water and disaster risk management.