After months of threatening, the La Soufrière volcano explosively erupted on April 9, blanketing much of St Vincent and the Grenadines in ash and gas. More than 13,000 persons were evacuated from the Red and Orange zones. The volcano continued to episodically erupt over a two week period with the last major eruption recorded on April 22. While all productive sectors were impacted, it was the country’s agriculture sector that was particularly hard hit.
CARDI was part of a Damage and Loss Assessment Team assembled by the Honourable Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour (MAFFRTIL) to develop a preliminary damage and loss assessment report. Representatives from units within the MAFFRTIL, the Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) were also part of the team which was supported by the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA).
Approximately 27% of the 10,500 registered farmers on the island, live and work in Red and Orange zones. Preliminary estimates reveal that damages and losses range from as low as 7% in the Green Zone to 100% for a substantial number of commodities in the Red and Orange Zones. The value of total damage and loss sustained by the crops, livestock, apiculture, fisheries and forestry sectors is estimated to be more than $142 million Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD).
In the Red Zone, 100% of vegetable crops and 60% of the 2021 arrowroot crop was loss, disrupting the livelihoods of many farm families. Damage to leafy vegetables was reported across the country.
Approximately 90% of the tree crops and 80% of root crops were reported damaged in the Red Zone. Banana and plantain plants were also physically damaged and the fruits rendered unmarketable by the heavy ashfall.
More than 4,900 heads of small ruminants, 680 cattle and 400 pigs have been impacted in the Red Zone. Livestock that was left to roam freely was without forage as their pastures were totally destroyed by the ash and dust. The MAFFRTIL and other agencies have been supplying water and feed to the animals in the Red Zone daily. Additionally, molasses was sourced to supplement the feeding of these animals.
The livelihoods of more than 800 fisher folks have been directly affected by these eruptions. There has been reported damage to vessels, equipment and even to aquaculture systems. International export of fisheries products has ceased due to the closure of the airport.
Approximately 90% of forest in the Red Zone is estimated to be damaged. Wildlife has been impacted especially the National Bird (Amazona gildinghi) which is in its nesting season.
Severe infrastructural damage was reported to feeder roads, bridges, farmers’ homes, the Tissue Culture Laboratory in Orange Hill and the starch processing facility at Owia. The CARDI field station located in Rabacca suffered significant losses – 100% of crops were loss and 80% of infrastructure damaged.
Prior to the April eruption, the Institute moved collections of germplasm for banana and plantain, sweet potato, cassava and dasheen to a safer location in the Green Zone. These can now be multiplied and supplied to farmers.
CARDI is supporting blueprints for the construction of emergency pens for evacuation, transport and temporary housing for the animals. The Institute has also been canvassing its member states for planting material to kickstart agriculture production. CARDI’s seed production facility in Belize has also committed to shipping 3,000 lbs of corn (CARDI YC-001) to be used as grain for feeding animals and 200 lbs to be used as planting material – sufficient to plant 10 acres. This can potentially yield 20,000- 25,000 lbs corn grain or approximately 300,000 cobs. CARDI YC-001 is an open pollinated variety which will allow farmers to save seeds. Additionally, through its subsidiary, the Caribbean Agricultural Commercial Services Hub Limited (CACSH), CARDI is in discussion with Seminis, to procure a selection of vegetable seeds for distribution to local farmers.
St Vincent and the Grenadines’ agriculture sector contributes 7% to GDP and directly employs more than 15,000 persons. It is an important source of livelihood and a significant foreign exchange earner. CARDI is committed to supporting the short, medium and long term rebuilding efforts of the sector.