Greater emphasis to be placed on backyard gardening

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The Ministry of Agriculture is moving to ensure that registered farmers and backyard gardeners get the kind of institutional support that they need to be more productive.
Minister of Agriculture, Dean Jonas made the disclosure yesterday during an event to observe the ninth anniversary of the national backyard gardening programme.
Noting that backyard gardening is a time tested strategy adopted across the world, the minister said that it is practiced by many communities with limited institutional resources and institutional support.
He, however, promised that the government, through the ministry of agriculture will provide greenhouses and other agricultural paraphernalia to assist backyard gardeners to be more efficient in food production while effectively utilising space.
“The food that we grow here is of a better quality and it is cheaper,” Minister Jonas stressed as he noted that the benefits of home gardening are overlooked, and there is need to create greater awareness of the practice “if we are to achieve not just zero hunger but zero malnutrition”.
As he highlighted that there are 1,500 backyard gardeners registered in Antigua,” the agriculture minister said, “We need to increase that to about 10,000 in order for us to accomplish what we are trying to accomplish – food security and nutritional security.”
He also said that an important aim of increasing local food production is to reduce the national food bill. He added that once local food production is increased, the government would approach supermarkets to curb importation and purchase from local farmers.
According to the minister, a marketing plan is envisaged to export produce in which the country has comparative advantage; in this regard, proper storage facilities would be installed at the Central Marketing Corporation (CMC), and an abattoir will be built in which emphasis will be placed on slaughtering chicken.
During his address, a participant pointed to periods of drought and glut for certain vegetables such as ochro. The minister responded by pointing out that production for vegetables is determined by the weather and he assured his audience that this can be curbed by using greenhouses.
Extension Officer, Owolabi Elabanjo, who has been spearheading the backyard gardening campaign, gave a background of the programme, stating that the idea occurred to him in 2008 when food prices sky rocketed all over the world “and we were able to convince ourselves that the contribution of backyard gardening was of great importance to our food security.
“We want our food to be our medicine. We don’t want our medicine to be our food,” Elabanjo said.
Director of Agriculture, Jedidiah Maxim, chaired the event, which was held on the grounds of the ministry of agriculture. He expressed satisfaction at the progress made over the years in the programme despite the challenges faced from hurricanes and drought.
He credited the extension officers and the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for the success.
The agriculture official expressed the hope that backyard gardening “will grow from strength to strength” noting that “at all times we cannot live without food  … and that everybody has a part to play in ensuring that there is food security”.
He said that we are what we eat and we should be proud to produce what we eat.
Farmer and entrepreneur, Fitzmorgan Greenaway, also addressed the audience of about 100 people, comprising backyard gardeners, farmers, members of the diplomatic corps as well as personnel from the agriculture ministry, including extension officers.
Expressing surprise at how quickly nine years have passed, he commended all those, “who are still in the process of preparing, harvesting and sharing with your (friends and) families the things that you would have produced in your gardens … also providing food for our twin island state …. You can produce a meal from your yard – all of it.”
Deputy Governor General, Sir Clare Roberts also participated in the exercise. In a brief address, he pointed out that agriculture has not been attractive to Antiguans because of the history of slavery. He, however, stressed that the more developed countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Canada and Japan have achieved wealth by placing emphasis on agriculture and education.
Sir Clare pointed out that his father was one of the larger farmers in All Saints, and he commended the the current thrust to increase backyard gardening across the state.
A number of farmers and backyard gardeners as well as schools, even the deputy Governor General were presented with simple agricultural tools such as hoes, spray cans, cutlasses as well as fertilisers, fencing wire and seedlings to encourage them to continue their backyard gardening endeavours.

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