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Mr Randy Elliott shares mitigation measures to deal with the effects of drought; said there is need for more education in that regard


by Eulana Weekes

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Drought and its effect on the Agricultural sector was a focal point at the Drought Awareness Session hosted by the Nevis Disaster Management Department on Friday, May 26, 2023.

Director of the Department of Agriculture on Nevis, Mr Randy Elliott, discussed several ways in which the drought situation has impacted the sector. He explained that the lack of water availability and soil moisture has caused a decline in crop yields and livestock productivity.

“Drought within itself has affected us negatively over the years, and basically, we would have seen, for instance, a decrease in production, especially during this time of the year, where you have farmers, and these are not just commercial farmers, you have even the persons who even do the back yard garden who refuse to at this point in time attempt production. You also have the situations of the livestock farmers at this point in time, who actually suffer; some will even attempt to move the animals to the abattoir. They realise that while slaughtering a goat or a sheep and they’re looking for 30-35 lbs, they are actually getting like 25 or 20 lbs. They’re actually seeing a loss as it relates to the weight of their animals.”

According to Elliott, the advice for livestock farmers has been that rather than waiting until drought hits severely, when the animals are starting to lose weight, try to bring farm numbers within a manageable range.

Elliott added, “We have also reached out to some of our livestock farmers as it relates to trying to develop pastures within their farms. You can’t have your animals grazing wildly; sometimes, your animal may be walking a mile looking for grass, but try to cultivate grass so your animals have access to grass. When we say cultivation, [it’s] in terms of using some of the same technology that we use within crops to see how the livestock farmers can benefit.”

The impacts of drought on the agricultural sector are accompanied by not only economic consequences but social consequences as well. As the demand for food increases, so does the water demand, which trickles down to higher costs and prices and even loss of livelihoods for some farmers.

In Nevis, according to Elliott, 99% of farmers rely on domestic water supply to sustain their farms. In trying to mitigate the effects of drought on the agricultural sector, he said, farmers have been encouraged to conserve water and use technology and other initiatives to keep their farms active.

“We have been doing a number of things as it relates to, trying to encourage our farmers of practises they can do to help to reduce wastage but also to conserve and to prolong crop life and some of the things that we would have ensured here on the island of Nevis is that farmers [are] always abreast in terms of the technology of drip irrigation, where it is a requirement. Once someone comes to the Department and indicates that they wish to get into agriculture, that is one of the number one things that we always tell them, “You have to get drip irrigation’ said Elliott.

He added, “We also would have spoken to our farmers as it relates to the introduction of timers. Over the years, we would have seen some farmers while using drip irrigation; they still prolong the watering time. So we would have asked our farmers to start implementing some level of technology, as it relates to timers and so forth.”

The Director of Agriculture in Nevis said the introduction of greenhouse technology and on-farm water storage are priority areas that the Ministry and Department continue to introduce to farmers. Though some farmers have made the necessary investment into greenhouses, many still solely use the open fields.

“We continue to support our farmers. We continue with the introduction of greenhouse technology, and it’s a technology that utilises a little less water than the open field because it doesn’t have that high evapotranspiration rate; and also, we have asked a number of our farmers to get involved in on-farm water storage.”

Mr Elliott also discussed how drought contributes to increased pest and disease outbreaks. He specifically explained why monkeys continue to prey on people’s farms.

“Over the years… you would have seen or heard during drought,  farmers crying out for pest and diseases and particularly, the monkey; and one of the things that we find during the period of drought is that, the on-farm damages or even the damages within the households from monies, significantly increase during the period of drought and as a result, because of a limitation of forage foods that are out in the wild, these animals tend to find themselves towards the farms of individuals. You would have seen an increase in terms of pests and diseases. Sometimes you go, and you see some farmers’ plants looking really good, then you [go] back, and you see them looking wilt up with spider mites etc., and all of these are factors that are actually affecting the farming sector as a result of drought.”

Despite the realities of drought in the agricultural sector and life in general, Elliott said there is a need for continuous education for farmers and the general public. He stressed the need for water conservation and water harvesting on farms as practical ways to cope with the adverse influences of drought.


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