Thursday 14th December, 2006

 

Hoam has vision... ...for St. Lucian youths

 
 
 
 
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From left: Five of the facilitators of the HOAM training project during a HOAM
meeting.

Young people of St Lucia get involved in agriculture development very young in age.

BY CAMILLE BETHEL

Organic Agriculture

“Organic agriculture strongly differs from the chemical dependant system of “modern agriculture.” The Guiding principle of organic agriculture is that it considers the natural cycles of nature.. It is a production system that sustains agricultural production by avoiding or largely excluding synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. It is a system that respects the earth's natural balance and attempts to work and grow food within nature’s cycles.”

St Lucian youths are being given the opportunity to change their community through organic agriculture and Hewanorra Organic Agriculture Movement (HOAM), St Lucia via training projects.

HOAM’s vision, which is to develop an organic industry in an eco-friendly and holistic manner, will present opportunities to the people to produce and consume natural and wholesome food for healthy living. The group’s aim is the establishment of a sustainable organic agricultural sector through the sensitisation, mobilisation and empowerment of the people, by fostering strategic alliances with related organisations in the creation of a viable organic movement on the island.

HOAM was launched in March of last year, as an initiative of the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), in connection with the St Lucian Ministry of Agriculture.

HOAM secretary Ratoya Pilgrim and co-manager of Catalyst Organic Gardens gave an account of HOAM’S accomplishments thus far in a recent interview.

“A few months before the actual launch of HOAM, a meeting was held and a steering committee which consists of ten individuals, most of whom are farmers and a few Ministry of Agriculture employees, was elected.”

Pilgrim said the committee decided that schools would be the best place for organic demonstration plots because HOAM believes in order to promote new and sustainable farming systems, in the long term, young people, some of whom will be future farmers, must be exposed to this system of farming early in their educational development. HOAM believes schools are also important places for such projects because of their accessibility to the public.

Alliances and Projects

“So the project that we have begun is located at the Anse la Raye Primary School, co-funded by my partner Damien Adjodha, who is also the chairman of HOAM, and I at Catalyst Organic Gardens (Cog), the French Embassy and Digicel. Cog was awarded an EC$10,000 grant from Digicel in our Caring Connection programme.”

Pilgrim said this particular project was inspired by a group of youth who worked at Cog and who were interested in applying for the Digicel grant. The project included a nine-day training session in the principles and techniques of organic and sustainable agriculture with morning and afternoon sessions three days a week which were done by two teachers, Nkrumah Lucien and Imran Edwards.

“The morning training consisted of theoretical lessons in what is organic Agriculture, seed propagation, organic soil fertility management, plant care, integrated pest management, bed preparations, agro-eco systems, harvest and market. Whereas the afternoon sessions were practical’s covering whatever subject matter was covered earlier,” said Pilgrim.

“So for example, if soil fertility management was taught the youth were divided in teams and they were asked to build compost piles.”

On the ninth day of the training the young people were tested on the knowledge they gained in both written and oral exams which concluded with a graduation ceremony where they received certificates.

“At present eight of the 15 youths who participated in the course are currently working at the school garden helping to rehabilitate it and supply food to the 150 primary students there who benefit from the school’s lunch programme.”

The funding received from the Digicel grant, she added, was specifically for the training, the purchasing of tools, and for paying the youth.

“It is important to note that the training was a paid training and the youth received EC$23 a day. The money has also gone towards keeping them employed thus far but additional funding is needed.”

Currently they are in the process of seeking funding from various agencies, one of which is the Global Environment. Facility (GEF), in order to continue its work.

Future projects

“We plan on growing a lot of roots crops: cassava, dasheen, yam and tannia. We also want to include a lot of leafy greens including amaranth, kale, spinach, Chinese cabbage and soya. We also want to create a herb garden full of native and exotic herbs and flowers. Fruit trees are a must, as they are top on our list for food security for the school in years to come," Pilgrim said.

Another of HOAM’s goals is to set up three organic demo gardens around the island: one of which has already been started.

“One week after the training course was completed, in early October, the young people became involved in creating and shaping the garden.”

Pilgrim added that the youth involved are at the heart of this particular project which is a shared effort of HOAM, Catalyst Organic Gardens, Digicel and the French Embassy.’

Part of HOAM’s mission this year besides setting up Organic demo gardens, is to run a nation wide sensitisation campaign and hold four training workshops around the island for farmers interested in the organic conversion process.

“We are working in as much as our capacity permits us and having the opportunity to work closely with the youth in the community and actually seeing the difference in their perception and their growing appreciation of natural farming in my opinion is progress and a blessing.”

She added that because HOAM is largely made up of farmers, who must tend to their farms, the group face many challenges but they are pressing on.

“We are overcoming, and with continued support from the Ministry of Agriculture, IICA, the French Embassy, the GEF (a sub-division of the UNDP based in Barbados) and the future participation of the Ministry of Education, we have faith that the Almighty will give us continued strength to complete our mission.”

T&T’s Agricultural initiatives

The local Ministry of Agriculture has also recognised the importance of encouraging youths to realise their potential through agriculture in technical, professional and business activities and have started the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA). The local youths are being sensitised to the availability of agriculture as a career. They will hopefully become aware of the importance of agriculture in nation building and would be encouraged to participate in agriculture as a productive way of life whilst benefiting from employment opportunities.

This programme is viewed as timely because of the decline in interest by the young people in the agricultural sector. YAPA provides training opportunities to the youths for entry into the agricultural sector.

Youth Apprenticeship Programme places young people as interns in a range of successful private and public sector agriculture enterprises which exposes them to operations, practical skills and processes in these enterprises. There they are expected to develop skills in farm management, production of crops and livestock as well as gain insights in creating successful agricultural enterprises.

To date, more than 1,500 youths have been exposed to agricultural activities through YAPA. Presently the Ministry is reviewing the programme with the intention of expanding it to include additional progressive elements.

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