by Curlan Campbell
- Rural farmers have limited access to credit from financial institutions that do not fully understand dynamics of agriculture
- A farmers’ association can bridge gap between financial institutions and farmers
- Making farming more attractive to younger demographic is still a work in progress
While others complain about the state of Grenada’s agriculture sector, young farmer Marcus Andall has set out on his life-long mission to eventually increase the island’s food security, one plot of land at a time.
After deciding to switch from food preparation directly to farming due to the demand for produce during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown measures last year, Andall understood the magnitude the lack of food security can have on Grenada. The 33-year-old decided to dedicate himself to farming on a full-time basis under his brand Grenada Ital which is an acronym for “Internal Therapy Alignment with Love.” He acquired 10 acres of land in heart of Birchgrove, St Andrew and plants corn and kale which he said are in high demand. “Corn and kale are two crops I see in Grenada that are in high demand and the supply is at a minimum. A lot of supermarkets import kale especially, and I think this can be grown here…I really want to divide portions of the land into corn and kale and then put more focus on long term crops like planting green bananas, dasheen and tania,” said Andall.
The idea to plant more long term crops is deliberate as he said these are the crops that will do well in an area of Birchgrove that constantly receives significant rain. Andall is part of the new wave of young farmers that are challenging negative stereotypes associated with farming by showing that educated farmers can make a living off the land. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Grenada currently has 378 youth farmers (31 females and 347 males) between 20 and 35. The youngest male farmer is 21, while the youngest female farmer is 25.
Andall believes that farming can reverse Grenada’s high import bill if done strategically and from a scientific approach. He suggested that Grenada’s farmers should be encouraged to practice the zoning of crops based on their location and topography. Also, he said farmers should receive guidance on properly organising their scheduling sequence for the planting of certain crops. This will reduce competition between farmers who each plant the same crops simultaneously, leading to a market glut for certain crops while other crops are scarce.
Andall explained that although Grenada’s climate is relatively the same throughout the island, there are parts that receive more rain than others, and therefore there are crops that are better suited for these areas. “We should zone the island based on what is the best crop to plant for a particular area and we should encourage farmers that if you are in that area, then this is what you should be planting… again if they want to plant other crops in between, then alright.”
Food security in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic has started to receive much attention since the start of Covid-19 lockdown period, with an increase in the number of people taking up backyard gardening. This movement has received further support from the Ministry of Agriculture which last September launched the Backyard Gardening Programme, as part of the Government’s Covid-19 Mitigation and Response Plan, geared towards “increasing agricultural output at both the commercial and household levels in Grenada.”
However, while the challenge of reducing barriers to entering the agriculture sector and making it more attractive to the younger demographic is still a work in progress, Andall outlined another obstacle that hinders the sector’s growth. He stated that despite having representation in parliament through the farmers’ representative in the Senate, farmers themselves don’t have a voice and are not strategically organised to be able to lobby on their behalf. Just like the nutmeg farmers that make up the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA), Andall believes regular farmers should create an association to focus on representing their interests solely. The association can help with the registration of farmers, help foster a healthier relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, assist in streamlining how the bankers interact with farmers, stabilise prices, and fetch better markets and prices for produce.
Andall believes another hindrance to the agriculture sector’s growth is that rural farmers have limited access to credit from financial institutions that do not fully understand the dynamics of agriculture. These issues can be addressed with the formation of a farmers’ association which can bridge the gap between financial institutions and farmers themselves. “A lot of times what happens is that bankers are not fully aware of what happens with the loans disbursed to farmers; also when farmers encounter problems, communication with the bankers is done electronically and bankers don’t necessarily come out to see the problem. That’s where I see the association coming into play, in bridging the gap and acting on behalf of farmers.”
Andall encourages farmers to work together and practice group economics to build the sector for the future.