SIDF invests EC$13 million in Capisterre Farm, hydroponic farms, dams, floriculture and interest-free loans to farmers and fishermen

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, JUNE 3RD 2012 (CUOPM) – The Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation invested over EC$13 million in the agricultural sector

CEO Mr. Terrance Crossman said at a public forum that EC$13.3 million was spent on six agricultural projects including three hydroponics farms, the 113-acre Capisterre Farm, a floriculture programme, Agricultural Resource Management Project and Agricultural Subsidized Loan Programme.

The SIDF’s flagship project is the Capisterre Farm located in St. Paul’s. Started in March 2010, the 113- acre Farm is funded by the Foundation through a total investment of EC$7 million to be disbursed over five years. The main goal of Capisterre Farm is to complement the domestic market in achieving food security. It is expected that by 2015 the Farm will operate as a private, self-sustaining, commercial entity.

Fifteen acres of farm land is currently cultivated with fruit trees and vegetable crops. The Farm grows a variety of crops such as pineapples, watermelons, cabbage, peanuts, yams, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers and bananas. These are mainly supplied to supermarkets, vendors, hotels and restaurants; however, individuals may purchase directly from the Farm for household consumption.

The Farm presently employs 12 permanent field labourers and is managed by Stuart Versailles. Technical support is provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

The hydroponics farm at Schools Meals, Needmust

The Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) funded a floriculture project at La Valle, St. Paul’s, to provide training in horticultural practices and life skills to workers who were unemployed following the closure of the sugar industry.

The SIDF provided funds totaling EC$290,300.00 to the programme, which started in 2007, with 25 former SSMC labourers who worked in the nursery at La Valle cultivating flowers.

In March 2009, the La Valle Floriculture Project was upgraded into the Agricultural Training Employment Project (ATEP), which brought the total beneficiaries of this programme to 125 persons.

SIDF has invested in developing agriculture and promoting entrepreneurship among the youth. Funded with a grant of EC$832,163.76, the Skills Training and Entrepreneurial Program (STEP), in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Education, is providing training to young men to become entrepreneurs. They learn hydroponics crop production and life skills, and receive a weekly stipend.

Hydroponics farming is an innovative method which involves growing crops vertically in stacked pots that are filled with coconut mesh. The plants are irrigated and fed nutrients using a timed drip system, and grown in the protective environment of a greenhouse. Two hydroponics farms are already in operation, one located in Mc Knight at the back of the former Department of Education building on Cayon Street, and the other on the compound of the School Meals Programme. Another is being set up at Project Strong.

The Agricultural Resource Management (ARM) Project aims at fostering agricultural development and sustainability by building infrastructure and providing farmers with technical support and training. Components of the Project include the construction of ten dams and four demonstration greenhouses with drip irrigation and water storage systems. The Foundation has committed over EC$10, 000,000.00 in the form of a grant to the ARM Project. Since the implementation of the Project in 2008, a total of EC$3,932,876.72 was disbursed as of the end of March 2012.

The hydroponics farm under construction at Project Strong

Four water dams have so far been constructed in O’Gees, Upper Mansion, Estridge and Farms (Sandy Point), and other sites are currently being prepared. Water is harvested during the rainy season and stored in the dams so that farmers can irrigate their crops during the dry months. The dams are 110 feet long, 100 feet wide and 12 feet deep and can hold one million gallons of water – enough to supply ten acres of land during the dry season. The harvested water will allow farmers to plant and reap crops such as tomatoes, cabbage, sweet peppers, carrots that are difficult to cultivate during the dry season, thus supplying the domestic market with these local vegetables year round.

Farmers are being provided with the protected and controlled environment of greenhouses in which to produce their crops. Greenhouses have been erected at two sites, one in Phillips and the other in Tabernacle. Another greenhouse is under construction in Tabernacle, and the fourth will be built in O’Gees.

A total of 84 farmers have benefited from an Agricultural Subsidized Loan Programme, established in 2008, to encourage entrepreneurship and foster growth in the medium-small and micro-agro business sectors. Funding for this programme, in the amount of EC$2,000,000, was provided by the Foundation through the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis which is responsible for managing and administering the funds. Under this programme, farmers receive interest free loans of up to EC$25,000. This loan assistance has helped farmers to put the necessary infrastructure in place on their farm, pay workers and buy seeds.

Mr. Crossman said agricultural diversification is an important mechanism for economic growth.

“Our experience with sugar has taught us not to put all our eggs in one basket, rather to create a portfolio that includes multiple investments in order to reduce risk. That is the approach now being taken to the development of the agricultural sector. Additional, this philosophy is critical in promoting the concept of food security. The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. In addition to achieving food security, the government aims to expand agricultural sector to reduce the import bill,” he said.

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