In our quest to achieve food security, we should be looking, not only at replacing crops that are presently imported, but also at crops that used to be grown here but are hardly seen nowadays. We should also be considering crops that are grown elsewhere in the tropics but are not common in Barbados.
Amaranthus spinosus or Badhji was originally imported as a food crop but is now a common weed in Barbados. It is used in Trinidad and Jamaica as a green and is often boiled in rice dishes. There is a grain variety which will grow in Barbados and could possibly replace imported grains in livestock feeds.
Portulaca oleracea known locally as purslane or pussley is rumoured to have been brought to the West Indies by the French as a salad green or used boiled in rice. This grows easily here and is in fact considered a weed.
Opuntia delenii of which there are two varieties in Barbados â€“ the spiny Flat Hand Dilda used chiefly as a hedge, and the spineless variety, the edible leaves of which are used in Mexico and Texas .In the past in Barbados it was used as a clarifying agent for cane juice in making genuine Muscovado Sugar.
Recently the FAO published â€œUse Of Opuntia as a Forage for Ruminant Livestockâ€. Since Opuntia grows in dry sea blasted areas, it would be an ideal crop for the Scotland District where cattle have been known to die in the dry season for lack of water and forage. This plant also produces an edible fruit which is sold as a specialty product in California. Perhaps local chefs should experiment.
Curcuma domestica or turmeric was grown in most kitchen gardens in the old days but is hardly seen today. It is an indispensable constituent of curry powder.The USA imports over 2000 tons per annum valued at over $2,000,000 US.
Hibiscus sabdariffa or sorrel is traditionally grown in small amounts around Christmas, but with proper drying facilities, availability could be extended, and it could even become an export earner. It is interesting to note that we are at present importing dried sorrel originating in Sudan and packaged in Trinidad.
Vanilla planifolia or vanilla: The full grown, unripe pods,when properly dried or cured, are used to make vanilla essence . It is produced on a small scale in Dominica and could possibly be grown in our gullies as it likes shaded areas and protection from high winds.
Piper nigrum or black pepper is probably the most important of all spices in terms of usage and value in world trade. It is grown in most tropical countries. This is another crop that could probably be grown in our gully system.
Non Food Crops
Aloe barbadensis or Aloes has been grown in Barbados for centuries in the dry areas of St Philip and St Lucy. When the harvested leaves were exposed to the hot sun the yellow sap ran down into copper tayches where it was evaporated to a solid black brittle mass, which was exported to the UK to be used in medicines. There are many areas in Barbados where aloes could be grown commercially if there was a market.
In Dominica, the leaves are hammer milled and put through a filter to remove the fibre and skin with the resulting sap being exported in plastic drums. It is clear that we need to set up a commercial cosmetic manufacturing facility based on aloe sap.
Ricinus communis or castor oil bean was once a commercial crop in Barbados and the shrubs are still very common. There are now dwarf varieties available that are suitable for mechanical harvesting which could again make this a possible crop for us. The seeds yield a fast-drying non-yellowing oil used mainly in industry for paints, and more recently for the production of bio-diesel.
Leucaena leucocephala known locally as river tamarind is a good protein source for cattle and sheep. The nutritive value is equal or superior to alfalfa hay. Young pods and shoots can be cooked as a vegetable and the ripe seeds roasted as a coffee-substitute. There are two major varieties in Barbados; those used as a forage, and the Central American variety K-8 ,introduced by CARDI, which grows to 60 feet in two years and would be an ideal crop for burning in a sugar factory for the production of electricity in the out-of-crop period.
In Molokai, Hawaii a 400 ha farm of Leucaena, on a four-year rotation, fuels a 2 Megawatt facility producing 11.6 million KWh/yr, replacing about 22,000 barrels of diesel.
We hope that this article will stimulate discussion on the potential of these crops to improve the lives of Barbadian farmers both large and â€œBehind the Palingâ€œ by providing an alternative source of income and nutrition for their families.