Continuity in policy and the execution and monitoring of plans to develop agriculture in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba is a key factor for success in getting the islands to become more self-reliant in growing produce. Dr. Bert Lotz of the Wageningen University & Research (WUR) suggested this during a technical briefing to the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday about the development possibilities for the agricultural sector in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
On behalf of the WUR team, Lotz gave a virtual presentation to the Committee gathered in one of the meeting rooms of the Second Chamber. WUR carried out a desk study and spoke with experts about the development possibilities for the agricultural sector in the Caribbean Netherlands. The sustainability of local food production and fisheries has been integrated into the Nature and Environment Policy Plan Caribbean Netherlands 2020-2030 of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality LNV in The Hague.
The contribution of growing produce on the islands to the local economy is an explicit goal of this 10-year nature and environment policy plan. One of the major issues is erosion, many times caused by the overgrazing of roaming animals, mostly goats. During the research, WUR came to the conclusion that data, statistics and (supporting) documents on the islands, and in particular with regard to this subject, were scarcely available.
For each of the three Caribbean Netherlands islands, the WUR presented four plans: an integral freshwater plan, an agricultural development plan, a fisheries plan and an agricultural education plan. Part of the freshwater plan is to cultivate sustainable management and exploitation of freshwater, water catchment and water-saving production systems.
The agricultural development plan includes the updating of the islands’ soil map, which is more than 60 years old, a structural solution for the roaming goats, the updating of regulations to protect food crops, attention for animal welfare and food safety. Lotz said that this required a solid collaboration with the public entities, stakeholders and the involved ministries.
In the agricultural plan attention is given to the image and attractiveness of the agricultural sector. With the exception of Saba, where people historically have close ties with agriculture, there is little attention for and desire to work in this sector. The goal is to create more interest in growing local produce, among other things, by getting the youth involved at a young age.
Caretaker Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality Carola Schouten has responded to the WUR report and has expressed appreciation for the work that was done, said Lotz. The minister subscribed to the importance of constant monitoring. Priorities in the Caribbean Netherlands Nature and Environment Policy Plan include the professionalising of the goat keeping and the tackling of roaming goats, water management, supporting of local capacity and expanding local know-how.
Lotz said that while there were many good ideas and plans, it was important to secure continuity with evaluations in between so that plans and projects that are started up successfully last. Agricultural efforts need to be multi-annual, and a lot of attention is needed for collaboration with the local governments.
Members of Parliament (MPs) who were present, Jorien Wuite of the Democratic Party D66, Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA, Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA, Aukje de Vries of the liberal democratic VVD party and Don Ceder of the ChristianUnion, posed a number of questions. MP Wuite specifically asked whether the effects of climate change and the fact that the Windward Islands are located in the hurricane belt were included in the agricultural plans. She further asked about community gardening which has increased a lot during the pandemic lockdowns.
Lotz explained that agricultural projects for the Windward Islands had to be hurricane-proof. As for community gardening, he said that traditionally, Sabans did the most gardening and growing of produce in their backyards and on small plots. He said the distance between the population and agriculture and fisheries was the smallest in Saba. He added that on all three islands, there were school gardening projects.
Lotz pointed out that growing produce locally was not only about reducing costs for the consumer but that it was also important to promote a healthy lifestyle. Responding to a question by MP van den Berg, he said the islands were too small to be completely dependent on local food production. MP Kuiken pointed out that the cultural value of agriculture and husbandry was also important.
The Daily Herald
On Saba they should have been listening already in 2012 to University Wageningen and the SABAGRO project of the Social Workplace (now Sabareach)