By Orville Williams
Farmers in Antigua and Barbuda are continuing the fight to maintain crop production and improve the country’s food security, despite the negative impact of current drought conditions on access to one of the most valuable resources, fresh water.
The country is known to suffer from regular disruptions to its water supply during the ‘dry season’, but oftentimes the drought conditions extend far beyond that period. During these circumstances, the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) is forced to take actions like rationing water supply and cranking up the workload at the desalination plants that play a major role throughout the year in maintaining the supply.
Owolabi Elabanjo – Senior Extension Officer in the Agriculture Ministry – acknowledged these realities, adding that, “in Antigua and Barbuda, we are unique, very different from most of the other Eastern Caribbean islands. We’re one of the driest islands within the sub-region and within [that] uniqueness…we don’t have a single fresh water river here”.
He says, as is expected, the farmers have been hit hard by the conditions, but are making valiant efforts not to get thrown off track.
“The conditions right now are not so good for the majority of [the farmers] in terms of the water supply; the water supply has not been very adequate.
“Our farmers have been very resilient though; they’ve been doing very good work. They’ve been putting themselves together in certain areas, to be able to harness water by putting back some of the ponds that surrounded them.
“What we’ve noticed also is that some of them too are looking into putting some wells, if possible, on their farms or in their areas to work together.”
Elabanjo commended the farmers for those efforts and reiterated their importance to food security, particularly coming out of what was arguably the worst stage of the pandemic for Antigua and Barbuda last year.
The farmers will not be left to fend for themselves, however, with Elabanjo saying APUA is contemplating ways of assisting them. Discussions, he said, are also ongoing with the Department of Environment to see what assistance can come from that end.
“We’re working with APUA [and] we’ll be visiting some farming areas to see what can be done, if some wells can be dug to supply water to some of those farmers.
“Ian Lewis, the manager, is very close to us, where anytime we call, he’s very willing to listen to us. So, I believe by the time they complete what they are doing now, we shall be seeing more water supply to certain areas of agriculture in Antigua.
“We’re also working with the Department of Environment [DoE] to see what possibilities of funding [there are], so we can all work together to ensure that water [is accessible], because that is the number one focus of production for agriculture,” Elabanjo added.
The DoE is currently working on a project to introduce new technologies like solar-powered reverse osmosis units and solar-powered water pumps to the farming community, to assist with the water supply issues.
That project is only in the procurement stage, but is expected to hit the ground toward the end of this year.