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Time for resilient agriculture and food systems in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Submitted by Nitya Jacob 24th December 2022 6:32
Coastline full of boats with lots of living houses on the hill, Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Coastline full of boats with lots of living houses on the hill, Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines


The 2021 eruption of La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) took place in a context of years of significant under investment in the agriculture sector. Cheron Constance traces the immediate impacts on farms and farmers, the medium-and long-term consequences, and proposes actions to build a resilient, revalued food system for the island nation.

Following the initial eruption of La Soufrière on 9 April 2021, ash, pyroclastic flows (hot ash, superheated air, and debris travelling at speed close to the ground) and lahars (mudflows of water and volcanic debris) decimated fields, denuded fruit trees, killed livestock and made transportation routes impassable.Nearly 25,000 people (≈20% of the country’s population) living in the most dangerous ‘red’ and ‘orange’ zones were displaced, including many of the nation’s 10,000 registered farmers.

The evacuation order came just 24 hours before the first explosive eruption, too late for many farmers to move their livestock. Heavy rain towards the end of April caused more damage, turning the deposited ash into a heavy cement-like substance that collapsed roofs, broken tree limbs, and formed a hard crust on fields. The destruction of crops in the red and orange zones led to concern about high food prices in the medium term.

Many farmers lacked resources to replant or buy seeds, and many had already been struggling due to the impacts of COVID-19. Much of the food currently available in SVG is from international relief parcels and donations from the Vincentian diaspora and largely comprises canned meats, dried pasta and ultra-processed snacks. The consequent increased consumption of unhealthy foods may further reduce the market for locally grown, nutritious foods and increase the incidence of non-communicable diseases. Actions for a resilient, revalued food system.

Decisive policy action is crucial if SVG is to learn from the eruption, build back better and help the farming community through future crises. This includes: Investment in agriculture, including infrastructure improvements, a livestock registration system, and transparent, updated data to inform strategic planning for agricultural development.

Policies that address all parts of the entire food system, from production to consumption.

In 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture proclaimed local food provisioning to be a priority in order to cut the high import food bill, but no attention was given to increasing the demand for local food, especially among producers themselves.Identifying multiple ways to use natural resources, including using food and agri-tourism to re-envision tourism and shift away from the exploitative dynamics that foreign entities wield over Caribbean countries.

Including agriculture and food in disaster risk-reduction planning, including establishing adequate early warning systems, helping farmers adopt resilience practices, implementing protocols to protect crops and livestock, and budgeting for adequate and appropriately distributed relief funds.

Cheron Constance has an MSc in Food Policy and a PhD in Rural. From Urban Agriculture Magazine 38.