The World Bank classifies the dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda as high income for a non-OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt the country’s economy. A 2020 survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) found that 40% of the population cannot cover expenses for essential needs. Additionally, almost 30% of respondents reported an inability to meet basic dietary requirements. Economic response and recovery efforts supporting Antigua and Barbuda are essential to help those living in poverty. New social programs and technological innovations are working to improve water access and food security in Antigua and Barbuda.
National Backyard Gardening Program
According to the 2020 WFP survey, 72% of respondents reported a spike in food prices since the pandemic began. This is not the first time Antigua and Barbuda has experienced a fluctuation in food prices. In 2008, Hurricane Omar and the surge in food prices demonstrated Antigua and Barbuda’s susceptibility to market volatility. The cost of imported fruits and vegetables reached $12.8 million in 2008, compared to only $4 million in 2000.
In 2009, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Housing and the Environment collaborated with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to develop the National Food Production Plan to reduce food costs. The plan included the National Backyard Gardening Program, currently overseen by the Ministry’s Agricultural Extension Division.
The National Backyard Gardening Program has successfully reduced food insecurity in Antigua and Barbuda. Backyard gardens contribute around 280 tons of total vegetable production to the country each year. Backyard gardens also equip citizens with a stockpile of food in the event of severe weather. The program provides advanced productivity-boosting technology, including “drip irrigation, vermicomposting, shade houses and microgardening in cut drums and table pallets.”
Nearly 2,500 households participate in the National Backyard Gardening Program. More than two-thirds of participants consume most of the harvested food and distribute some to the community. Almost 650 household gardens also profit from selling vegetables to local markets. In both cases, families benefit from food cost savings and a more balanced diet.
AF Innovation Project
Several Caribbean nations, including Antigua and Barbuda, are defined by the United Nations as water-scarce, which means a country has “less than 1000 cubic meters per capita of renewable water resources a year.” Droughts are becoming more seasonal in the Caribbean and experts anticipate that the agriculture industry will be most affected. Antigua and Barbuda obtains water for agriculture from reverse osmosis (RO) facilities and rain barrels. Between 3.4 and 3.5 million gallons of the country’s total daily requirement of roughly six million gallons come from the country’s three operational RO plants.
Several factors threaten water availability for farmers in Antigua and Barbuda, including groundwater depletion, high costs of generating water and high costs of delivering water to remote regions. The Department of Environment has received a $250,000 grant from the Adaptation Fund to implement the AF Innovation Project, officially known as the Innovative Technologies for Improved Water Availability to Increase Food Security in Antigua and Barbuda Project.
The project strives to alleviate food insecurity in Antigua and Barbuda within two years by making ground and surface water more accessible and usable for farming. Solar-powered RO units and solar-powered water pumps will be resistant to power outages and adverse weather. They will also help the country meet its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030. The RO units and water pumps are scheduled to be acquired by October 2021.
Solar-Powered RO Technology
Among other technologies, the AF Innovation Project will test the SolarRO 1500 solar photovoltaic (PV) powered desalination unit. This device filters brackish water and saltwater to eliminate dirt and particles that might contaminate the RO membrane. After filtering, it compresses the salty seawater so that only freshwater can pass through the RO membrane. Then, a UV light removes biological pollutants that may have made it through the RO membrane, like bacteria or viruses. Autogenous renewable energy powers the SolarRO device entirely, thus eliminating the potential of disturbance due to a power loss. SolarRO units are anticipated to improve the sustainability of Antigua’s agriculture industry and boost water security in the event of extreme weather or environmental disasters.
Increasing agricultural productivity will improve food security in Antigua and Barbuda. However, an insufficient water supply will impede farming. The National Backyard Gardening Program, the AF Innovation Project and solar-powered RO technology are examples of recent initiatives working to solve the country’s food and agriculture industry issues. Because of the success of these initiatives, Antigua and Barbuda has designated April 21 as National Backyard Garden Day and has launched a school gardening program called “Grow What You Eat.”
– Tiara Tyson