As a small island state with a big appetite, almost 100 percent of our present consumption comes from external sources. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, our ancestors produced a large portion of the food they consumed. Fresh meat, ground provisions, fruits and vegetables were produced on fertile areas on these islands. While fresh fish, conch and lobster came from the surrounding waters.
The calypsonian, King Austin, sang back in the 1970s, ‘The Price of Progress is High’. In these islands, the development of the tourism and financial sectors came at a cost. Large tracts of arable land were utilized for residential development, resulting in a decline in agricultural production and an increase in soil erosion and pollution.
As the effects of climate change continue unabated, we see thousands of acres of forest being lost to forest fires in Europe and North America. The delicate balance of biodiversity in these areas will take years to be restored.
In the global context, as world population increases, food production and agricultural development are the two major issues in the debate on farm sustainability. The exponential rate of a growing human population coupled with a finite supply of land, water and energy should push governments, policymakers, and agricultural scientists to work together to provide the food we need without irreparable damage to the planet we live on.
Here in the Virgin Islands, the local production of food must be made economically viable for small farmers with the potential to develop into the kind of commercial enterprises that their children may wish to inherit. The principles of enhancing environmental quality, reducing the use of pesticides and water, while maintaining economic viability will improve the quality of life for farmers and society. These are achievable goals, and well within our reach.
Food systems resilience has become a major factor in the aftermath of covid-19. Furthermore the current war in Ukraine has reduced the movement of wheat and gas. These challenges should stimulate Governments to support increased local food production and reduce the dependence on imported food.
In the Virgin Islands, the Food Security and Sustainability Act was passed during the Second Sitting of the Fourth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly on Tuesday, 19th April 2022. This indicates that the government plans to support agricultural entrepreneurs and the agricultural industry. This support must include practical training opportunities for existing farmers at the HLSCC. Training in Agricultural Science should be on par with training in the other sciences. The theme for food production should be, ‘Field to Fork’.
The main components of sustainable farming and conventional farming are exactly the same: soil management, crop management, water management, disease and pest management, and waste management. The only real difference lies in the methods used to grow the crops.
Sustainable agriculture is the name for a loose set of agricultural practices that conserve soil fertility, respect animal life, limit the use of potentially harmful chemicals, make efficient use of non-renewable resources and enhance the quality of life of farming communities and the larger society.
The trend towards mixed crop-livestock systems appear to be the way for environmental and economically sustainable agriculture in the future. The research has shown that mixed crop-livestock systems improve nutrient cycling including manure recycling, while reducing chemical inputs. The crop production and the livestock production provide benefits to each other.
The population can be assured that sustainable agriculture is in our future, once the H. L. Stoutt Community College and the Ministry responsible for Agriculture play their roles to ensure that sustainable food security is an important aspect of the future development of these islands.
Furthermore, the adoption of a green economy as a part of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for small islands must be taken seriously to protect our natural environment while increasing the local production of fresh fruits and vegetables. This is an achievable goal as history has shown that these islands previously produced adequate fresh fruits and vegetables to feed its population while exporting the surplus to the US Virgin Islands.