by The Montserrat Farmers Association

Description

Climate change is bringing more intense rainfall during the wet season and longer periods of drought during the dry season. This creates greater challenges for farmers. The heavy rain creates problems for land tillage operations on arable lands, especially on the soils where clay content is high and if the tractor operations are not timely the farmer, is forced to operate on soil with improper tilth.
Heavy rainfall causes erosion, flooding and in some instances, crops are waterlogged so they lodge, suffer from rotted roots or rotted produce.
The prolonged drought negatively affects productivity as the crops require more water. Plants often wilt or are affected by vertebrate pests like iguanas eating their foliage.
Bare patches of land left after a serious drought also contribute to more serious erosion when the rain comes.
Another serious threat is the increased frequency of devastating hurricanes which affect both the living and farming conditions of the farmer. Damage to property, machinery and crops can be extensive and recovery can be costly.
Sometimes after a strong hurricane, new invasive pests are introduced, these can prove to be a challenge to control.
The best practices adopted include:

  • Water harvesting;
  • Drip irrigation;
  • Protected agriculture;
  • Contour farming and establishing proper drainage.

Farmers are encouraged to harvest water mainly through the use of tanks that collect water from the roof of houses and farm buildings where they exist. Dams or small ponds are also encouraged where feasible. Solar pumps have been recently introduced. They are used to pump water from ponds or cisterns to these water tanks and then the water is gravity fed through the drip irrigation system. Contour barriers in combination with windbreaks are also used. Protected agricultural practices have grown in importance initially as a response to the volcanic eruption but now proving to be important regarding climate change as well.
Greenhouses provide protection from acid rain and are used for pest control. They are very expensive to establish and maintain. The structures are susceptible to hurricanes and although the recommendation is to take off the covering during a storm it can be quite challenging especially in years when the storm frequency is high. There is also the problem of heat generated in the greenhouses and hoop houses and to avoid the expense of extractor fans which do not work well in Montserrat, the farmers have been using shade netting as a ceiling in modified greenhouses where the entire house has an insect netting covering and vents.
The greenhouses also are effective in pest control as insects are screened out and every effort is used to ensure that they cannot get in. It also protects the plants from vertebrate pests like the rodents (rats, mice and agouti), iguanas and birds like the pearly eyed thrasher and feral chickens.

Results

  • Water harvesting: Montserrat is very hilly, so many areas are not suitable for drip irrigation, but where possible this is encouraged in combination with water tanks from which the water is usually gravity fed.
  • Contour barriers in combination with windbreaks: as the parcels of land become smaller, this poses a great challenge. In an estate setting, large areas could be contoured, and proper drainage established and even if the land is divided among several farmers the contours drains and windbreaks remain established. This is not the present situation in Montserrat, and one farmer can quite easily be affected negatively by another farmer or a householder (depending on where he/she is farming) who does not practice proper soil conservation.

Climate smartness*

The diverse practices promoted in the project support the bases of CSA since they focus mainly on adapting to climate change and increasing the profitability of crops. Most of the practices promoted in the project are identified among the main ones in terms of a global CSA evaluation at a global scale by Sova et. al., 2018.
The project also recommends working on some practices that contribute in terms of carbon capture or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, aiming to increase the affinity of the initiative with the CSA approach.
It is also recommended to include other additional practices in the region to the ones that are in the implementation phase, which can be identified by the producers themselves. In order to do this, it is important to strengthen the flow of climate information towards producers, as well as their empowerment when it comes to using such information, in order to ensure that in the future they can make good decisions, adjusted to their socioeconomic and environmental conditions. Likewise, working on building community awareness and strengthening social networks in these communities show up as relevant factors that can help producers to understand that what they do on their farms can affect other producers.
This helps to scale promoted practices and contributes to sustainability over time.

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*This is done in the framework of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) approach. Climate-smartness in agriculture means understanding impacts of climate change and variability along with the agricultural activity, which includes the planning of what crop to plant, when to plant, what variety to plant and what type of management practices are needed to reduce the impact on the environment (e.g. emissions reduction), maintain or increase productivity (e.g. yields) while increasing resilience and improving livelihoods.