Our Readers' Opinions
March 18, 2011
Grow your own food

If only because it is one of the venues for the World Cup currently taking place, our attention has been drawn to Sri Lanka. There the Government has been pondering how to cope with rising food prices.{{more}} They have come to the conclusion that it is best to get people to grow their own food. To this end, they will be providing their people with seeds, technical advice and the like. Sounds familiar?

Natural disasters in Canada, China, Pakistan and Russia have led to a decline in food production and consequently food prices are rising and expected to rise further. Oil prices are increasing, and inevitably fertilizer prices also, thus adding to the food price spiral.

Even in the days of slavery, our ancestors used to grow their own food on the provision grounds given out by their masters in the mountainous areas of their estates. Indeed terms like ‘ground provision’ and ‘going mountain’ crept into our language from those days.

We have carried on that tradition which explains why there are so many breadfruit trees scattered throughout our island. In my childhood days, it was even more noticeable. Back then, every other house on Back Street had a breadfruit tree and a lime tree in the yard.

What worried many people about Hurricane Tomas was the number of breadfruit trees it seemed to have blown down. Fortunately, many have still been left standing. Moreover, even if our traditional food crops such as potatoes, dasheen, tannias and yams had been destroyed by Tomas, they can be replanted and be available in months. More generally, it is striking how vegetable production has been expanding. In areas like Villa and Fountain, in what looked like plots waiting for houses, vegetables are now being planted.

Banana production certainly has its advantages; there is a guaranteed market and the possibility of a weekly income. But vegetable farming is not without its merits. Most of our ground provisions are now regarded as health foods, particularly for diabetics. Further vegetable production neither affects the environment as badly nor does it require large doses of fertilizer as do bananas. Indeed the use of compost and pen manure is almost sufficient to ensure high yields. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Taiwanese have, therefore, been rightly assisting farmers in compost making.

Even more important, on coming to office in 2001, the Government decreed that garbage should be collected not only in towns, but throughout the island. Refuse disposal has now been centralized at Diamond and Belle Isle. Fifty per cent of the stuff collected can be composted, and compost is now being made at Diamond. This should be developed to its full potential, and the requisite pen manure added for the benefit of farmers. When we use compost instead of fertilizer, the money that would otherwise have to go abroad to pay for the fertilizer, stays in SVG.

Given the small size of many of our holdings, the possibility of growing vegetables in containers should not be ignored. Potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, kohl-rabi (a type of cabbage), corn, onions, chive, sweet peppers, okras and almost all the herbs can be grown in this way. A 200 gallon tank, a compost heap and some banana boxes or plastic barrels cut into sections should be enough to get you on your way. The containers should be filled with compost from your heap supplemented by pen manure. Plants grown in containers require more systematic watering than those grown in the ground, hence the need for the tank to collect water from the roof. Greater control, however, can be exercised over what happens in the containers, weed elimination for instance.

Seeds of all types can be obtained from the AIW’s outlet next to Food City or from Green Fingers. The seeds are sometimes not sold in the small quantities required by the backyard gardener. This needs to be remedied. Pest and disease will often pose problems, but the seed outlets just mentioned also sell pesticides. The ladies selling them are quite capable of providing much of the advice needed. When production is in full swing, good backyard gardeners can produce more food than the family requires. In many countries, Saturday and Sunday markets have, therefore, been set up. Here backyard gardeners can sell their surpluses. National Properties once had a Saturday market at Diamond. It needs to be revived.

As far as producing our own meat is concerned, the Ministry of Agriculture should get on with implementing its long discussed programme for broiler production. Incidentally, the droppings from the broilers would be just the stuff needed to enrich the compost from Diamond.