The Caribbean islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba have good possibilities to improve domestic agricultural production and fishing, and to reduce the dependence on imported food, it appeared from a study conducted by Wageningen University and Research (WUR). A report was presented to the Dutch Parliament’s Committee for Kingdom Relations on Wednesday, January 13.
As part of the “Knowledge Agenda”, the Dutch Parliament’s standing committee for Kingdom Relations asked WUR to examine how agricultural production is currently organised in the Caribbean Netherlands and what the possibilities are for further development. The underlying motive is that each of the three islands would benefit from a greater degree of self-sufficiency and diversification of the economy.
Food production in Bonaire, Statia and Saba is limited currently. Until 40 to 50 years ago, food production through domestic agriculture and horticulture on the islands was much higher. The decline of domestic production was caused by increasing prosperity and opportunities to import food at competitive prices.
However, dependence on imported food now makes the cost of living unnecessarily expensive and poses a threat for the future. A recent study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns, for example, that food insecurity remains a major challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean, partly due to climate change. “Action on this issue is, therefore, not a luxury but a necessity,” WUR researchers said.
The islands’ governments and residents both have taken initiatives in recent years to increase food production. WUR’s study draws lessons from this and provides concrete recommendations for the public entities and the agriculture, horticulture, cattle-breeding and fishery sectors on each of the three islands.
The most important recommendation is that, in addition to the present Nature and Environmental Policy Plan 2020-2030, for each island four more narrowly defined plans are needed to structurally develop the identified opportunities.
These include an integrated freshwater plan for sustainable groundwater management and circular and water-saving production systems; an agricultural development plan, with attention to sustainable soil management, more sustainable crop protection and increased competitiveness with respect to foreign food imports; a fisheries development plan that provides for sustainable expansion of the fishing industry and prevents overfishing of inshore fish; and an agricultural education plan that leads to increased interest in local food production among young people.
“The population of the islands should be closely involved in developing these plans,” said WUR.
Increasing food production in Bonaire, Statia and Saba is also important for other reasons. An additional negative effect of the decrease in homegrown agriculture and horticulture is soil erosion caused by (over-)grazing of abandoned land. This erosion forms a direct threat to the coral ecosystems around the islands, as the top layer of the soil is washed out to sea as a result of rainfall. Furthermore, the areas taken out of agricultural use are an ideal place for invasive exotic plant species.
The reduced availability of affordable, fresh and healthy homegrown food also has consequences for public health, as the consumption of sugar- and fat-rich food has increased. This has led to an increase in lifestyle diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the researchers say.
The Daily Herald.