Crop Farmers Learn About Greenhouse Technology
By LK Hewlett
Workshop attendees
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Sept. 6 -- Local crop farmers are set to benefit from a five-day workshop on how to apply greenhouse technology to increase crop production.

The farmers are being introduced to protected agriculture by Professor Dr. Heiner Lieth, a crop ecologist specializing in greenhouse production. The training session comes at a critical juncture in global food security and increased food prices on the international market.

So far four shade houses (green houses) have been constructed around St. Kitts, 3 on farms (St. Peters, Estridge and Phillips’) and one on the Ministry of Agriculture's outreach center in Tabernacle. The shade houses are presently in the pre-production stage and irrigation lines are being installed.

The participants, from both St. Kitts and Nevis, were on Thursday (Sept 6) encouraged to "embrace the change and utilize technology to increase production and market produce at affordable prices".

Gene Knight, Policy Analyst in the Ministry of Agriculture said the workshop was timely in light of a joint statement by several international agencies saying the current situation in the world food markets characterized by sharp increases in maize, wheat and soybean prices has raised fears of a repeat of the 200/2008 world food crisis.

“In that statement they highlighted the need in the long term strategy to consider the adaption to climate change. We realize in agriculture and business that we must learn to adapt to changing situations. We must embrace the challenges and opportunities with the same enthusiasm,” he advised.

Comparing local demand to production in 2011 he pointed out that the estimated demand for cabbage, carrots and tomatoes far exceeded the production which created an opportunity gap for farmers. This data alone could not accurately depict the supply and demand module for the Federation Knight pointed out, since demand was not uniformed throughout the year.

He said utilizing the greenhouses would allow for farmers to modify the natural environment to achieve optimum plant growth.

“So we can adjust the air and root temperatures, light, water, humidity and affect the nutrition of the plant; you have greater control over your planting conditions,” he said. He said small scale food producers need to be better equipped to raise their productivity and increase their access to markets and reduce their exposure to risk.

Pathleen Titus, Country Representative for CARDI discussed the costs versus returns of investing in protective agriculture. She said the high cost of the greenhouse structures were a challenge that was being addressed.

“We are looking towards improving the accessibility of the technology because many people talk about how expensive it is, but there are low cost structures that can be used instead.”

She said the agencies were not only looking at technology development but also looking at marketing and economies.

“Data is being collected to determine the economic viability of the protected systems, comparing costs of what happens inside and what happens outside to determine if you have 10 times or 300 times increase in yield so you can look at the returns for that kind of investment.”

Titus said CARDI recognized that it could not achieve the goals of the program by itself and had partnered with national, regional and international institutions. The workshop, she said, is a collaborative effort between CARDI, CDB, the EU, USAID, FAVA/CA, IICA, UWI the St. Kitts-Nevis Ministry of Agriculture and others.