Story and photos by Shahein Fitzpatrick
The Defence Force has gone beyond its duty to protect and to serve through a farming initiative aimed at increasing food security.
As a part of their 39th anniversary and overall vision, the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force welcomed Prime Minister Gaston Browne who visited the Crabbs training facility yesterday to see firsthand the project’s progress.
According to Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Telbert Benjamin, four of the force’s 120 acres of land are currently being farmed, and they have an additional five acres which they are hoping to use to expand their production.
Benjamin said that Prime Minister Browne had indicated that the force would receive support to construct a dam within an earmarked five-acre site.
Benjamin stated, “The idea behind this is to support the overall food security process, inclusive of what we need as a Defence Force and what other entities within Antigua and Barbuda need.
“We are looking primarily at being able to support, in the not too distant future, the Fiennes Institute as well as one of the [psychiatric] hospitals, with the produce that we get from here.
“The food that has been prepared up here over the past months have gone exclusively to the kitchens of the Antigua Barbuda Defence Force.
“During the month of April, we were able to produce somewhere in the region of about 2,000 pounds of butternut squash, pumpkins and I think over 15,000 pounds of watermelons, and all of those went into our resources,” he explained.
“Plus, we have been able to make some small donations to the soup kitchen in St John’s and a few other charitable organisations.
“That has been a part of our testing phase, we tested it and we have proven that we can actually produce.”
Benjamin added, “One of the things we as a defence force do is make sure we build capacity among our individuals, among our soldiers here.
“My expectations as CDS is that no one comes in here and leaves empty handed; you must leave with some form of skill.
“What we are aiming to do is ensure that our soldiers and sailors have something that they can take away from here, and not only take away for their own need, but take away for the national need as well.”
PM Browne said he was “very pleased” with the farm’s progress.
“About two years ago we held discussions with the then commander and the leadership of the Antigua Barbuda Defence Force to broaden the contribution of the Antigua Barbuda Defence Force to include a contribution to food security,” he said.
“Our country’s economy would have been desolated by Covid, in fact Covid in essence would have exposed the food insecurity of our country and we would have seen an increase in the production in the last several months as the commander indicated.”
Browne added, “They’re not only producing food for themselves but they’re also supplying for various institutions.
“The plan now is to expand the facilities here, to expand the farm and also to broaden the extent of the animal husbandry to include the production of eggs and to have broilers as well.”