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Volcanic eruptions cause over $200 million in losses to agricultural sector

Volcanic eruptions cause over $200 million in losses to agricultural sector
Richmond Agriculture Facility was destroyed by ashfall

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The Agriculture sector in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) bore the brunt of the damage from the eruptions of La Soufriere Volcano last April, sustaining an estimated 52.1 % of losses experienced.

Volcanic eruptions cause over $200 million in losses to agricultural sector
A banana field at London one week after the eruptions began

None of its sub-sectors escaped the fall out which was most severe in the North-eastern and Western corridors of the mainland.

Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar touched on this issue as he made his contribution to the 2022 budget in Parliament last week Friday, January 14 noting that: “The years 2020 and 2021 have been challenging with multiple hazards affecting the development and growth of the agriculture and fisheries sector”.

He pointed out that in 2021, fish landings decreased by 19.9% and 17% in value and weight, respectively, compared to the previous year.

Around 800 fishers island-wide have been affected, with 278 of them being relocated. It was reported that 11 vessels with their engines and other equipment were damaged.

“The estimated damage and loss for fisheries is EC$5.73 million, with EC$0.72 million, representing damage and EC$5.013 million loss,” Minister Caesar said.

The minister pointed out as well that the crop sub-sector accounted for a total of 50.4% of the damage and loss in the agriculture sector. This percentage of damage represented 16.7% of the overall damage, and 78.1% of loss.

Quoting from the Executive Summary of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) Report for St Vincent and the Grenadines, he said that a total of “4,151 acres of crops were …destroyed or damaged, comprising of tree crops on 3,045 acres, roots and tubers on 693 acres, and fruits and vegetables on 413 acres.

“About 1,028 acres [comprising] 543 of bananas and 485 [acres]of plantains were damaged in the entire country… The total damage to both crops is estimated at EC$10.08 million, while the loss is assessed at EC$26.56 million.”

The PDNA Report compiled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), following the 32 eruptions of La Soufriere volcano, April 9 – 22, 2021, states that: “Tree crops across the country were impacted with heavy ash deposits resulting in the breaking of branches and stripping of some trees, in some cases the snapping of trees. The entire fruit tree crop industry has been impacted ranging from 7% damage in the green zone, to up to 100% damage in the red zone.

“Cocoa, coconuts, avocado, breadfruit and mangoes were all severely affected. It is estimated that approximately 2,017.9 acres of tree crops were damaged, with total effects estimated at EC$44.92 million, damage at EC$3.96 million, and the loss at EC$40.96 million.

Further, the report states that: “Of the tree crops, the coconut industry suffered severe damage and loss where 1,350 acres were impacted at a total damage and loss value of EC$23.04 million.

Over 693 acres of root crops were estimated as damaged; these being listed as sweet potatoes, eddoes, yams, cassava, arrowroot, turmeric and ginger. The damage was valued at EC$2.00 million and the loss of $17.75 million. There was 80% damage to these crops in the red and orange zones.

Whatever root crops survived the impact of the ash, were indirectly damaged by livestock that were let loose and ravaged the remaining plants.

The total production of the arrowroot crop for 2020 was estimated at 440 metric tonnes, and according to the Report, “An estimated 98 acres that were unharvested was totally damaged due to ash fall ranging from 4 to 6 inches in some cases. Apart from the damage to the arrowroot crop, the roof at the factory in Owia also collapsed, resulting in the loss of starch estimated at EC$511,875.00. The total arrowroot damage and loss including the crop in the field plus tubers and starch in storage is estimated at EC$2.00 million.”

There was a 100% damage to fruits and vegetables in the red and orange zones as this was primarily the peak season for tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cabbages in the North Windward and North Leeward areas, the volcanic red and orange zones, which together produce up to 73% of vegetables grown on 568 acres of lands in SVG.

The total damage and loss for fruits and vegetables is estimated at EC$14.73 million with damage being EC$1.31 million, while losses accounted for EC$13.42 million.

Receiving an even greater setback were many cannabis farmers whose entire crop was decimated.

The Report put the preliminary estimate of the impact from the eruptions at over EC$$45,976,000.00, covering both the legal and illicit areas of the marijuana industry.

The livestock sub-sector, including poultry, suffered damage estimated at EC$1.51 million in all zones, and loss assessed at EC$1.65 million.

The PDNA Report revealed that established plantations and the natural forest suffered an excess of 65% damage in the red, orange and yellow zones. The estimated damage to the forest sub-sector is EC$84.053 million with loss estimated at EC$20.567 million.

According to the Report’s Environmental Impact, the volcanic hazards catastrophically destroyed fishing villages and turtle nesting beaches at Sandy Bay and Owia on the Windward side of mainland St. Vincent, and Rose bank, Chateaubelair, Fitz Hughes, and Richmond on the Leeward side.

Wallibou beach, a known turtle nesting area, was destroyed and is now inundated by the sea. Several rivers on the Windward side of the island known for the harvesting of ‘tri-tri’ were also destroyed and can no longer function in that capacity.

The report noted that agricultural infrastructure also sustained substantial damage listing these as the Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, arrowroot and cassava factories, fisheries complex, the CARDI Field Station, the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock Centre, Langley Park Palletisation Centre, and the Perseverance Agricultural Station along with several green houses.

Added was damage to bridges and roads as an indirect result of erosion due to heavy rains, lahars and pyroclastic flows.
The report is informing the response to the rebuilding and rehabilitation of the agriculture sector in SVG.