Ministry of Agriculture hoping to turn the page on water woes, for farmers’ sake

Local farmers have long been plagued by dry spells (Photo courtesy OECS)
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By Orville Williams

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With numerous efforts to improve water accessibility and security both underway and planned across the island, the Agriculture Ministry’s Extension Division is hoping the water woes that have plagued the twin island state for countless years will soon be problems of the past.

Drought conditions have almost become synonymous with Antigua and Barbuda due to its geographical setup, with extremely dry periods – due to minimal rainfall – and a lack of natural fresh water sources combining to overwhelm small and medium-scale farmers particularly.

Large-scale farmers, as expected, are better able to navigate these conditions as they have access to greater resources than their counterparts, who for the most part are dependent on government assistance or collaboration with each to secure water for their operations.

Nevertheless, when the place is dry, everyone is affected. That is the issue and, according to the ministry’s Owolabi Elabanjo, one which they hope to resolve in the near future.

“We have been fighting this fight for a while and to be honest, we have not done as much as we can do to fix things. We are grateful for what we have achieved so far, still being able to produce crops and supply the country with food, but we need to get to a point where we can start to thrive rather than just survive.

“Many of us are working around the clock, from farmers, to the government, to the private sector, to try and fix the water situation and I strongly believe that if we continue and we get some additional help, we can eventually turn the page and start to see a better day,” he said.

Water storage at the individual level has been encouraged and is being adopted by many farmers with a sense of urgency, through the installation of portable tanks and cisterns.

One of the ways Elabanjo hopes this will improve and expand is through engagement with the Chinese agriculture technicians whom they have “learnt many lessons from over the course of [their] working together”.

The first phase of a collaborative programme with the Chinese technicians was focused on planting techniques and ended a few months ago. However, a second phase – which Elabanjo hopes will be realised as early as possible – is meant to focus on boosting water storage by improving on existing methods and learning new ones.

The Extension Division is also working with the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) to improve water access in some of the worst-affected areas, by digging wells and establishing new connections to the supply network.

Elabanjo commended the APUA for its commitment to help solve the issues, saying they were almost as committed as both the ministry and the farmers to remedy the situation.

Another initiative that could play a big role in solving the water problems is a technology-based project being driven by the Environment Department.

The “Innovative Technologies for Improved Water Availability to Increase Food Security in Antigua and Barbuda Project” or “AF Innovation Project” for short, is expected to contribute to the cause by way of sustainable technologies like solar-powered reverse osmosis units and water pumps.

That project is expected to get underway before the end of this year.

Although the issues the agriculture sector faces now are urgent, Elabanjo added that they also have to play their part in arresting the impact of climate change, which is to blame for many of the issues that are plaguing farmers.

“We know that climate change is not something that can be fixed tomorrow or next month, but we have to constantly find ways to innovate and adapt if we are to survive.

“This does not mean we should just ignore climate change completely; we still have to play our part at this stage, so things can be better for farmers generations away from now,” he added.

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