Climate change: a threat to SIDS
It goes without saying – Climate Change remains one of the biggest threats to the existence of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) today. That view was reiterated by Dr. Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of the smallest country in the Western Hemisphere – St. Kitts and Nevis at the recently held United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York. At that summit, Dr. Harris said climate change remains an “existential threat to our islands”. Dr. Harris should be well aware of this. At the time he made that statement, his country, as well as the rest of the Caribbean were experiencing a severe drought that has forced authorities on the island to ration water supply in a bid to protect the island’s main aquifer that was at critically low levels. It is believed that this is a direct consequence of climate change.
Climate Change has been defined as the change in global or regional climate patterns and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels. Experts have maintained that these changes will put coastal communities around the world at serious risk. About 50% of the global population lives near the coast. But habitat destruction and land use changes are degrading and destroying wetlands and coastal forests — the natural buffers that help protect coastal areas against storm surges, rising sea levels and erosion. SIDS are thus under serious threats as a result of Climate Change. Communities and livelihoods that are here today, could literally be lost tomorrow due to sudden changes in conditions triggered by climate change. Even more so, the livelihoods in these countries that rely mostly on agriculture will be seriously hit. Climate Change creates food insecurity.
Effects of climate change on agriculture in the Caribbean
Take the Caribbean island nation of Dominica for example. In August 2015, the country was ravaged by the passage of Tropical Storm Erika, totally without warning. The country was initially not on a Tropical Storm Warning, as weather forecasters had predicted that the storm would have instead affected other islands in its path. The storm suddenly changed direction, hovered over Dominica for several hours and dumped several inches of rain on the island. During those hours, Dominica got more rain than most of the rest of the Caribbean got for the whole year up to that point. The results were disastrous; several lives lost, homes destroyed, public roads, bridges and public infrastructure collapsed, triggering hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Dominica is primarily an agrarian society producing food not only for its own consumption, but also for export to international and regional countries. The agriculture sector was devastated.
Agriculture Minister, Johnson Drigo, according to Dominica News Online, reported damages amounting to over $EC200 million (just under $US75 million) to Dominica’s agricultural sector after the passage of Tropical Storm Erika. According to him, many of the island’s farms are close to the water ways and they have taken a pounding from the storm. Here today, gone tomorrow! Needless to say, the stakes are high for the agriculture industry of a small island state like Dominica, which is one of the poorer countries in the region.
As mentioned earlier, the Caribbean this year has been undergoing a severe drought. That drought has severely impacted agriculture production in the various countries. In St. Kitts and Nevis, a farmer told one of the news radio stations WINN FM 98.9 that his production and that of other farmers have reduced as a result of less water to water to their crops.
“The output has been declined significantly …the area that you can irrigate is limited to the water you have…we are now doing less than quarter acres per crop when it used to be more than an acre,” said Esmond Henderson, a farmer from the community of Mansion, St. Kitts.
Youth involvement in agribusiness
How does this scenario affect the involvement of youth in agribusiness? Quite significantly. Agriculture is already enduring a stigma of drudgery and arduousness that is discouraging young people across the Caribbean and other parts of the world from entering the sector. If the agribusiness sector is further faced with the challenge of dealing with the impacts of climate change, it will be more difficult to entice more youth to be involved in agribusiness initiatives.
Despite these challenges, there are opportunities. One way of dealing with the effects of the water shortage on agriculture could be the utilisation of a hydroponics system. Senior lecturer at the Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College (CFBC) in St. Kitts, Dr. Leighton Naraine explains that this system of agriculture proves to be an adaptation method to climate change utilising less water than in traditional agriculture, thus addressing the challenges of the current water shortage affecting the Caribbean. Dr. Naraine is the project leader of The Provisions Project, which involves replicating the hydroponics system at the CFBC in other Caribbean counties and which is funded by the Organization of American States (OAS).
His team has already been to Guyana where the project has been replicated there and is due to visit four Caribbean islands to do the same. Hydroponics provides a great agribusiness opportunity for young people. Candace Richards, a past student of CFBC in Environmental Science revealed in a study she conducted that the Hydroponic and Organoponics system costs just over $US5000. This start-up cost, she explained is a worthy investment, as the monthly maintenance cost is about US$1000, which includes a stipend for someone to maintain the system. She estimated annual profit of just under US$70,000 after all costs are deducted. The stake for SIDS in the midst of climate change is high, but the possibilities are endless.
The Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum is being organised by CTA and partners in St Michael, Barbados from 02-06 November 2015. As part of the forum, a workshop on “Building Partnerships and Alliances to Scale Up Climate-smart and Adaptation Solutions” will be held on 03 and 04 November 2015. Follow this workshop with Hashtags #CPAF15 #WS7! See the full programme of the Forum.
Photo credit: J.L.Urrea/CCAFS
Blogpost by Andre Huie, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015.