Feature: Agriculture And Disaster Preparedness

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With the hurricane season officially under way in June, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management is making every effort to ensure this island’s food and fisheries infrastructure are secure in the event of a natural disaster.

As part of their remit, the Ministry advises and assists farmers in safeguarding their livestock and assists the fishing community in hauling vessels to safe areas prior to the impact of a major disaster or weather system.

As the lead agency on the Food and General Services Supplies Committee, which falls under the auspices of the Department of Emergency Management Services, they also provide food and supplies to persons in shelters or homes who have been impacted by a disaster.

The committee comprises government departments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. In addition, the Ministry collaborates with local merchants to ensure there is an adequate supply of food in the island at any given time for distribution in the event of a major disaster.

However, their efforts at disaster planning and mitigation are not limited to the period June and November but are a yearlong programme where assistance is provided to their clients. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture are also on hand to assist in cases of pest and disease outbreaks, flooding and drought.

Chief Agricultural Officer, Barton Clarke, explained that educational sessions are held with farmers during the year to ensure they have the necessary tools to cope with such challenges.

"Through education, we show and teach the farmers how to mitigate the potential impact of droughts and floods. In the case of droughts, how to harvest water, how to utilise drip irrigation systems as opposed to sprinkler systems to limit the amount of water you have to use, how to schedule your crops so you can avoid to the best extent possible the harsh times, how to access and utilise varieties of crops which are more tolerant to drought and so on," Mr. Barton said.

He added that the Ministry also plays a vital role in helping farmers and fisherfolk "to get back on their feet" following such disasters. This is done through the Disaster Rehabilitation Fund, a low interest BDS $50,000 loan which farmers and fisherfolk registered with the Ministry of Agriculture can access.

Mr. Clarke revealed that the passage of Tropical Storm Tomas had left many farmers "out of pocket" last October, significantly affecting the poultry industry which lost some 90,000 birds and the pig industry which lost some 400 pigs, at an estimated value of BDS $9.5 million.

According to him, agricultural officials learnt many valuable lessons following that disaster, and are encouraging farmers to further strengthen their infrastructure to avoid such heavy casualties.

"One of the issues that surfaced was the quality of the livestock pens. Some improvements to the pens are required so that an incident such as Tomas does not result in damage to the birds," the Chief Agricultural Officer pointed out.

With regard to fisheries, Mr. Clarke explained that the Fisheries Department was tasked with safeguarding the national fleet and as such, hauled fishing boats from the sea to safe ground if there is an approaching system.

In this regard, he urged fishermen and boast owners to respond quickly when they were issued with warnings in the advent of inclement weather.

"The plight of the fishermen is such that bad weather which affects them is not confined to the hurricane season but can occur at any time. So they ought to respond quickly…We did lose some boats last year. Some lost their moorings and drifted, while others were damaged. We need to do what is necessary to avoid that," Mr. Clarke explained.

While congratulating organisations such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army for their assistance during Tomas, Mr. Clarke stressed that there was a pressing need for more volunteers.

"We have excellent collaboration with the District Emergency Organisations… but we are going to need more persons to help us if we have a Category Three or Four system, where we anticipate the damages will be a lot more significant than what obtained with Tomas," he maintained.

Mr. Clarke also gave some pertinent advice to Barbadians during the hurricane season, reiterating the popular Boy Scout motto.?? "My message to Barbadians is to …continue to prepare, listen to the warnings as they are issued,…I cannot say enough; be prepared, be prepared," he stressed.

Persons interested in volunteering during the season are asked to contact the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management at??434-5000.

askeete@barbados.gov.bb

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