Category Archives: Agri-Notes

Sugarcane as a Renewable Energy Source

In the past Barbados had an efficient export oriented thriving sugar industry using
the soil, rainfall, well adapted varieties and available labour with well tested
agronomic practices in the plantation system, coupled with well-run sugar
factories. However in the recent past sugar production declined and attempts to
produce energy through co-generation in the existing factories using fuel cane
along with sugarcane failed due to many factors. These factors include increased
production costs, poor management and inadequate testing of fuel cane. Recent
plans by the government to diversify sugar industry with huge $400 million
project seems to be going nowhere.

The suitability of sugarcane as a source for renewable energy is being successfully
exploited in Guadeloupe and in Mauritius in the traditional sugar factories with
the use of supplement fuel in certain months. In Brazil, in addition to using cane
juice to produce fuel ethanol, projects are being undertaken to use total sugar
cane biomass to produce energy. During the last few years considerable progress
has been made in the technologies like gasification to use biomass for power
generation in Europe and North America.

There is a considerable area of idle land once used for cane production now in
bush. Bringing this land into cultivation to produce biomass to generate energy
can bring considerable agro-industry activity to the economic benefit of the
country. Barbados still retains most of infrastructure and knowledge of cane
production. Current interest in Barbados to exploit renewable energy sources like
solar and wind can be supplemented with use of sugarcane as an additional
energy source. Barbados is fortunate to have cane breeding and variety testing
stations to develop an array of very productive sugar cane varieties to the
local conditions with various combinations of characteristics. Unless some action
is taken very soon, the current small acreage under cane production will shrink
further and even the infrastructure and knowledge will disappear. Before this
happens, it is highly desirable to explore the use of gasification or related
technologies to produce renewable energy using currently available high biomass
yielding cane varieties supplemented with related biomass crops.

This kind of project need to be managed by private sector with some support from

What’s in a Variety

Every Barbadian has a preferred variety of something weather it is for Julie vs Imperial mangoes, a breadfruit from the right tree or the right kind of sweet potatoes.

What many people may not realise the the number of varieties that exist in all crops and the significance of differences between those varieties. In well established crops, specific varieties often have specific uses. For example,  potatoes come in three standard variety, Starchy – best for baking and frying, Waxy – best for casseroles and potato salads and All Purpose – your jack of all trades, master of none.

Each of those broad categories is then broken up into individual varieties.  Each of these specific varieties has individual characteristics which add value.  For the farmer it might be disease resistance and yield potential, for the supermarket – shelf life and for the consumer – flavour and appearance.  These characteristics, this distinctness, allows for some varieties to be valued much higher than others. In fact, there is a potato variety grown in France, call La Bonnette, which can be sold for up to $300 USD/lb.

In Barbados we have numerous varieties of sweet potato grown, these include Caroline Lea, Red Man and CBS49, the latter a truly local variety bred and developed in Barbados. While research has been done on their cooking and processing properties it is a drop in the bucket compared to the work that has been done on more well established crops.

A first step in establishing value for these varieties  would be to enable the consumers to easily identify their prefered varieties.  This would allow consumers to learn which varieties are best for the their purposes.

I believe, that if developed and marketed properly its possible that we could one day see a sweet potato variety that is also sold for $300 USD a pound.

Why Buy Local

The argument has been made that we should give up farming in Barbados, our cost of production is too high and we can get food cheaper elsewhere. Here I’m going to give you a few reasons why you should support Bajan farmers and buy local.

Food security – The global population is growing and the impact of climate change  will make farming increasingly challenging in many areas. Local farming provides a vital buffer against sudden changes in supply.  Additionally, maintaining an industry with a core of workers and equipment with the know-how and capabilities to expand the industry  is a vital hedge against the very likely possibility that global food scarcity will become a larger issue.

Health – Locally produced foods are generally whole-food, food which hasn’t been processed or only minimally processed. High consumption of processed food is being linking to a wide variety of medical conditions.  When eating local whole foods you are consuming the freshest, most health food you can.

Safety – With many of the food contamination stories in the news, knowing who your food producer is, and the standards they are required to meet, gives confidence about the quality of the food you are buying for your family.

In order for an industry to maintain viability it must also maintain a certain size.  It needs to be big enough for someone to be willing to import tractors and fertilizer, it needs to be big enough that it is worth someone’s time to learn how to repair tractors and other pieces of farm equipment. As the industry decreases in size, the shared overhead costs become more burdensome, decreasing the viability of the industry. Supporting the local agricultural sector through consumption and use of local produce is essential for its continued survival and flourishing.

Agri-Notes – Food Security

Recent experiences following hurricanes in the USA and Caribbean, where some persons didn’t have access to food for two or more days, have highlighted the importance of “food security”. This is further bolstered by the ever increasing world population that is rapidly approaching 8 billion, a whopping 11% of whom, according to the FAO, are already experiencing some degree of hunger.

Any food  policy must consider stability or resilience to future disruption or unavailability of critical food supply due to various threats or risk factors including  lack of foreign exchange, droughts, floods , shipping disruptions, fuel shortages, economic instability, and wars. Continue reading

Agri-Notes – Global Warming and its effect on food production

Global warming is a real phenomenon. We’re already experiencing its effects in terms of climate extremes resulting in drought , flooding and severe hurricanes. A  warmer world will also affect food production, in terms of quality and quantity, in several ways:

  • reduced seed germination under high soil temperatures, resulting in sparse crops stands
  • negative effect on photosynthesis, ultimately leading to reduced growth and lower crop yields  
  • reduced pollen viability which then becomes a major limiting factor for fruit set
  • delayed floral formation  resulting in smaller fruits
  • increased damage to crops from bacteria, fungi, and insect pests
  • Increased weed competition for moisture, nutrients, and light since weeds are better adapted to drought conditions than crops. In addition, herbicidal controls are less effective under hot and dry conditions.

Continue reading

Agri-Notes – We must conserve our top soil

Local farmers must pay attention to soil management so as to conserve our valuable topsoil.

Soil is composed of four elements:  mineral particles, organic matter, water and air. Fifty to eighty percent of the volume consists of mineral particles which form the skeletal structure of most soils. In addition there are countless soil organisms that together support life on earth.

Soil has four important functions It’s a : medium for plant growth; a means of water storage, supply and purification; a modifier of earth’s atmosphere; a habitat for organisms; all of which, in turn, modify the soil Continue reading

Agri-Notes – The Importance of Agriculture


The Importance of Agriculture

The agricultural sector in Barbados doesn’t get the respect it deserves. But it’s been known for a long time that a dollar spent in agriculture is recycled, on average, more than six times in the economy which is more than a dollar spent in any other economic sector.

The reason for this is that other sectors are also dependent on agriculture.  Too often agricultural discussions focus narrowly on the “on-farm” or production aspects but the agricultural sector also involves:

  1. Input supply: management, labour (skilled and unskilled), equipment, and equipment repairs, planting material, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides et al;
  2. Postharvest: Handling, storage, transport and distribution, processing, marketing, and sales.

Continue reading