Written by Anne-Teresa Birthwright and Shaneica Lester*, BCFN YES! 2016 winners.
Jamaica’s agricultural sector mainly comprises of small and medium sized farms with 5 hectares or less and they account for the majority of total agricultural holdings. Also, Jamaica has had a negative balance of trade for some time now where our imports have exceeded our exports. As such, we believe that small-scale farming is a eans of imported food control. It is an economically viable way of promoting food security as it encourages more self-sufficiency for Jamaica and less dependence on food importation.
Recently, the FAO Director General, stated that “the future of agriculture is not input intensive, it is knowledge intensive”. We agree that this is indeed the way forward in achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability. Therefore, this sought to increase farmers’ adaptive capacity by way of an Irrigation Farmer Field School (IFFS). The modules of this IFFS included Climate-Smart Water Conservation, Soil Water Management and Plant-Water Interactions.
The project was designed to incorporate knowledge transfer as an adaptation option to climate change. Our farmers in Jamaica face many problems, two of which includes that of low irrigation efficiency and limited water resources. This is because they are dependent on rainfall to carry out their farming activities.
Sometimes, they may be able to purchase water, however with a lengthy waiting list and restrictions on the amount which is allocated from the public service provider, a strain is put on farmers to maintain production. In addition, farmers are in need of improving on the efficient use of the little water they have so that it may last them longer.
Even though climate change is everywhere, we acknowledge that the severity of its impacts are site specific, with each region having their own experiences. This has triggered a growing interest and acknowledgment of various response dynamics towards adaptation, where either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ options are considered. ‘Hard’ options are strategies which focus on the engineering and technological adjustments whilst ‘soft’ options often fosters behavioural change. ‘Hard’ options such as dams, irrigation systems and the drilling of wells have predominantly been choice options for climate change adaptation, even though these are usually complex, capital intensive and require technical expertise.
So for example, while options such as new irrigation infrastructure may assist farmers in coping with variable and reducing rainfall, it may not achieve adaptability. Focusing only on options such as irrigation systems provide a temporary shield to farmers from the perceived changes in rainfall. This therefore does not equate to holistic adaptation, as a depletion in water resources will reveal farmers to be unadapt to the environmental changes which were concealed by now ineffective infrastructure-based interventions. On the other hand, through education, information and other capacity building approaches, farmers can become experts in identifying their climate risks, estimate the prospective impact of a specific climate hazards and make the necessary adjustments to reduce their potential losses.
Adapting to the ‘new normal’ of climate change requires the exploration of adaptation pathways which lead to options that are flexible, cost effective, participatory and uses effective adaptive management strategies specific to the cultural and socio-political context.
Through the implementation of the project in an area described as the ‘bread basket’ parish of Jamaica (St. Elizabeth), with water stressed farmers, we found that a learning by doing technique was most effective. Based on farmers’ perception, their ability to remember information, transfer it to others, carry out an activity or instruct others pertaining to that information received, is greatest when they have acquired that knowledge by doing a technique during a training. Now through the Irrigation Farmer Field School (IFFS), where practical discovery-based group learning sessions are employed, an increase in the adoption rate of new and/improved practices is made possible. In this knowledge transfer process, skills and techniques are discovered and created. It is therefore, one of the best approaches through which farmers can expand their knowledge base, and increase their adaptive capacity to evolve with and withstand climate related changes.
Being winners of the BCFN YES! 2016 Research Grant Competition afforded us the opportunity as young researchers to contribute our knowledge and expertise towards improving our farmers’ adaptive capacity to climate-related changes. Furthermore, in recognition of SDG goal 13: Climate Action - we are delighted to be the pioneers of an initiative which contributes to sustainable livelihoods and communities in our country.
The project was implemented in three communities of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Some of the project’s major achievements were the certification of approximately 57 farmers in on-farm water management and irrigation efficiency- a change in attitude and practice of what was learned is evident amongst farmers. Several low-cost open field rainwater harvesting structures were also demonstrated. Farmers were no strangers to the concept of rainwater harvesting but rainfall on the farm was not being capitalized on. These structures not only increase farmers’ water availability and efficiency by being constructed in the open field but it also has other environmental benefits such as; it’s good for irrigation (free from chlorine and other substances), it limits the amount of water available for surface run-off which can flood farms, erode soil and overwatering plants and it also helps to reduce contaminants from fertilizers and pesticides running off into rivers. Additionally, the project introduced farmers to record keeping tools which aids in their decision making. These tools also assist agricultural extension officers in better diagnosing and advising farmers when fields are visited. The key extension agency and a ‘driving engine’ for the Government of Jamaica policies and programmes for the development of the agricultural sector and the country’s food security - the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) is responsible for providing agricultural extension services. However, the total number of farmers per region significantly outweighs the number of officers. Farmers having a record of agronomic and irrigation practises, disease outbreaks and the application of fertilizers, for example, will significantly help these agricultural officers in assisting with on-farm productivity and recovery.
In collaborating with this project, RADA was able to fulfil a national target of on-farm water management and low-cost technology for small-scale farmers. This was the first of its kind to be implemented in the island. As the project comes to a close, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority has taken the initiative to secure funding to replicate and upscale the construction of open field rainwater harvesting structures, thus expanding the reach of farmers to this adaptive innovation.
Behavioural change and knowledge sharing at all levels is believed to be essential to the adaptive capacity and resilience of Jamaica’s food systems, as such on October 26, 2017, the project brought together approximately 30 stakeholders from academia, civil society groups, the public and private sector to a public seminar entitled: “Knowledge transfer as an Adaptation Option to Climate Change”. The seminar offered a platform for stakeholders to learn more about the project design and foster discussions on agricultural solutions and the sustainability and scalability of the knowledge transfer approach.
In moving forward, the project will undergo a comparative experiment with heat resistant tomato and sweet pepper accessions and local hybrid counterparts used by our farmers. Farmers who participated in the field school will plant these seeds on their farm during the dry season. This will effectively capture the performance of these seeds under tropical conditions, while taking into account their water requirement to maintain a production level economically viable for our farmers. With climate projections for the island expected to trend towards variable rainfall and increased drought conditions, the outcomes of this experiment may impact the adaptive capacity and resilience of the sector. You may read about the project activities on our website at https://irrigationffs.wixsite.com/jamaica.
Shaneica is a Ph.D. researcher at The University of the West Indies, Jamaica where her work is focussed on urban vulnerability and water security. It explores the social and political dimensions of water security, whilst aiming to identify indicators and decision making processes useful in measuring water security at the local level in order to achieve sustainable water management.
Anne-Teresa a Ph.D. researcher at the University of the West Indies where her research comparatively assesses the vulnerability and impacts of climate and economic change on small-scale farmers within Jamaica’s two major specialty coffee production systems. Her research interests includes climate change, adaptation, rural livelihoods and food security.