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Our Roots Run Deep – Living Sustainably in 2021


During the dry season this year, our hills were alive with the colour pink. The white cedar trees (tabebuia heterophylla) were in full bloom.

They’re an inhabitant of many islands in the Caribbean and are also known as the pink trumpet tree because of the shape of their flowers. Although the flowers are primarily pink, they may sometimes appear white.

“The environment is where we all meet;
where we all have a mutual interest;
it is the one thing all of us share.”
-Lady Bird Johnson

The white cedar tree, native to the Virgin Islands, has been adopted as the territorial tree and its flower as the territorial flower.  Valued as a timber tree, it has been widely planted for both reforestation and ornamentation. The tough, strong wood is used for many products, especially for the construction of boats in the islands of the Lesser Antilles. Here in the Virgin Islands, it was used in the construction of the Virgin Islands sloops. The proliferation of this tree, three years after hurricanes Irma and Maria, is a welcome sight. Our hillsides are green again, indicating that our watershed areas are well protected. As we appreciate the resilience of nature, there is hope for a future where nature and people can live and thrive together.

Creative use of science and technology can show us the way to a more sustainable environment.

Science has shown that healthy rainforests are critical to a healthy planet. The protection of these areas is the main effective way to prevent deforestation, safeguard biodiversity, keep carbon stored safely away, and maintain the health of all species on our planet.

As the global human population continues to grow, it is expected that the demand for food will double by the year 2050. Innovative changes in the way we produce our food will therefore have to play an important part in the coming decades. New trends in food production will ensure that sustainability will be seen as true self-preservation; there are no longer ifs, ands, or buts. The discussion on producing sufficient food for the world while protecting the environment is no longer an academic exercise; it is a necessary effort.

Although small-scale farmers in developing countries currently produce most of the world’s food, they face difficulty accessing the information and the technology required to improve the production and distribution of their products. As a result, the creation of wealth at the expense of the environment is no longer a viable option. Instead, sustainability should be seen as the only way to self–preservation for the planet; otherwise, we will be leaving future generations with an untenable situation.

The Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (CABI) organisation is working with small farmers worldwide to improve production. In contrast, Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) seeks to increase agribusiness investments for farmers with smallholdings. The vision of the CASA programme is to increase global investments in agribusinesses to trade with small farmers in equitable commercial relationships and thereby increase smallholder’s incomes.

As the latest scientific reports highlight the danger of climate change to the sustainability of the planet, large conservation agencies like Nature Conservancy and others are recognising the need to move with urgency to protect the earth.

It is possible to reduce the effect of climate change, feed 10 billion people worldwide, and provide cleaner, more abundant drinking water while also protecting life-giving lands, lakes, and rivers. It is possible to view a future in which wildlife thrives, magnificent landscapes are preserved, cities are maintained with renewable energy, and waste is recycled. Science shows us that a future where people and nature can thrive is achievable. It is our responsibility to make that vision a reality.

Here in the Virgin Islands, the window of opportunity for change is still open, but it is not wide, and it is closing. After the experiences of hurricanes Irma and Maria and the effect that COVID-19 is having on our fragile economy, it is vital that sustainability becomes our new mantra. Small-scale organic farming, utilising natural fertilisers, and conservation techniques are in our future. The innovative use of water recycling and soil conservation techniques like raised beds, composting, and mulching are some of the measures that can be implemented to increase food production. In addition, the production and storage of seed and rootstock can contribute towards self-sustainability.

“New science shows the clear path we must take to prevent irreversible damage to the lands and waters that sustain us all. It’s not too late to choose a more sustainable future where nature and people thrive together. To reach it, we must transform the way we get our food, fish, and energy right now.” Matt Champlin

Urgent action is essential, and we must seize the unprecedented opportunities to change the course of history. The international community is preparing to make path-defining choices for the future, with once-in-a-lifetime agreements that have the power to stop catastrophic climate change and preserve biodiversity on earth.

This could be the decade we save the planet. But we must follow through on the promises, policies, and collaborative efforts needed to protect nature from collapse.

As a small island, we have the resources to do it; we just need to make the change. The stigma on agriculture must be removed. Our young people must be exposed to the science of agriculture, and we must realize that it is a vital career on par with law, medicine, etc.  Twentieth-century agriculture is science-based and can be a profitable enterprise. We can produce more food on less land, we can use modern techniques to improve yield, and we can use recycled products to grow food. Current scientific research shows us a clear path to provide food without polluting our water supply and without doing irreversible damage to our environment. It is not too late to choose a sustainable future.

Protecting Our Planet Starts with Us