More research needed to minimise effects of climate change on agriculture
THE PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) has called for experts to conduct more research to assist in saving the nation’s agriculture industry from the adverse effects of climate change.
Speaking on September 21 at the Science for Today public lecture series hosted by The University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Science and Technology, titled ‘Too Hot to Handle’, Lenworth Fulton raised a number of areas in the industry that were being impacted by climate change, which made it challenging to envision a sustainable agriculture sector.
He proposed a series of ways that the application of science could assist in this regard. With focus on the topic ‘Sustainable Agriculture for Climate Change Resilience’, he highlighted that currently, Jamaica imports approximately 50 per cent of food because adverse weather conditions continued to affect the nation’s ability to feed its citizens.
“We need to change our attitude, [and] improve our practice towards a more sustainable agriculture,” he said.
Fulton highlighted the connection between the need for an effective sustainable agriculture plan and a robust approach to organic agriculture in the country.
“Organic fertiliser and farming is worthy of our attention [as] the overuse of inorganic or synthetic fertilisers caused the production of various greenhouse gases,” he said.
He continued that according to studies of major rivers and streams, 90 per cent of fish and 100 per cent of surface aquifers contained one or more pesticides at detectable levels; and that 41 per cent of major water samples and 45 per cent of tap water samples have traces of inorganic chemicals.
“So, even when we are drinking water here in Jamaica, because we are pouring three million litres of chemical in our soils and our crops, most of it is leaking back into our waters and therefore, we are creating an environment which is more dangerous and less sustainable,” he said.
He asserted that organic farming was one of the key strategies for producing cleaner and healthier food for society, and that good soil health was of the utmost importance to accomplish this.
“Now we have National Solid Waste Management (Authority) collecting millions of pounds or tonnes of garbage every year, that could be put to a spot, and you use vermicomposting to make compost which is healthy soil for us to use,” he said.
Vermicomposting is the process of using certain species of earthworms to convert biodegradable waste into compost that contains a diversity of plant nutrients and beneficial microorganisms.
Additionally, Fulton stated that research on the kinds of materials that could be used by farmers in modifying their farm structures was desperately needed, encouraging research organisations to investigate the best ways to employ plant material rather than materials that are the best conductors of heat.
He continued that it was time to expand the usage of solar energy and to do so by installing such systems on farm roofs. This, he said, would help keep costs down.
Fulton went on to promote the construction of buildings with better airflow that give farm animals more room, and that the implementation of sprinkler systems to cool them off in extremely hot weather was the best way to move forward.
“We have to act appropriately now,” he said.
He stated that in addition to better water harvesting techniques, all farms and households needed to modify their roofs with gutters to direct runoff into tanks, drums and ponds.
Fulton advocated for the re-engineering of gullies to retain water for agricultural and other uses, as well as maintenance of catchment areas that are in poor condition.
He also called for the creation of man-made lakes for agricultural, domestic and entertainment use and to redirect rivers and streams going to waste into established catchment areas.
“Why would you have a gully that can hold 10 million gallons of water and you collect the water after every rain and allow it to flow back into the sea or somewhere. So we need to start looking on these gullies and see which one of them would not pose danger to our everyday existence that you could pump back the water into the agricultural areas,” he explained.
“Our data [states that] if you can suffice water for 75 to a hundred days of drought, some rain will fall in between. So, that is where our dilemma is, we don’t have a system to sustain us a hundred days in a dry spell ... we would like to investigate more underground water sources that can be harnessed,” he said, adding that in regions with heavier mists, the sector would also like to be able to extract water from the atmosphere.
“We need to look at where we can get water, [because] it all has to do with food security,” he added.