Integrated approach to increase agricultural production, fishing

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.

Covered vegetable and herb cultivation based on the drip system in St. Eustatius. (Dolfi Debrot photo)

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.

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