Ensuring the continuity of the Shadehouse Project

Since 2010 farmers in several regions of the country have been participating in what is best described as an experiment designed to further promote the application of hydroponics to agriculture in Guyana.

The project is driven by an initiative taken by Partners of the Americas with technical and other forms of support from the Inter-American Develop-ment Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), the International Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) and the Canada-based Carib-bean Self Reliance International (Casri).

What is perhaps most eye-catching about the project is the manner in which the shadehouse principle that espouses the soil-less, off-ground cultivation of mostly short height crops like cabbages, lettuce, peppers and seasonings can be adapted by conventional farmers without the humbug of technology-laden complications. At the same time, the shadehouse approach avoids the difficulties associated with planting in the ground not least of which – in the Guyana context – are pests and flooding.

In the context of flooding, particularly, the application of the shadehouse technology can ease the considerable loss by and fears of farmers resulting from the now annual floods. More than that, controlled cultivation allows shadehouse crops to avoid some of the worst excesses of crop disease, a circumstance that is significant in the context in the global emphasis on healthy eating.

Considering the scale of traditional agriculture that obtains in Guyana, the Shadehouse Project is a modest initiative. At last Tuesday’s ‘showing off’ ceremony at the Pegasus Hotel, 48 farmers were recognized for their conversion to the shadehouse technology and the strides which they have made in its application.

It is not, however, the numbers that are relevant here. It is the success which the project has realized in converting traditional farmers – who, customarily, are set in their ways and often fiercely resistant to change – to a method that is both practical and profitable. More than that, there is talk of the Shadehouse Project becoming the precursor to a broader initiative to promote the virtues of healthy eating and the longer-term prospect of exporting local shadehouse produce to the drought-prone north-eastern Brazil.

Both the farmers and their benefactors concede that, for the moment at least, there is hardly enough of the shadehouse-produced vegetables to go around locally, far less to begin to contemplate export. What is probably more important, however, is that the Shadehouse Project appears set to precipitate an expansion of hydroponic farming in Guyana, the benefits of which have now become particularly apparent.

Substantive external support for the project is due to come to an end soon and while the international partners have committed to various forms of continuing support, the government ought to be sufficiently encouraged by what the project has achieved to plough resources into ensuring its continuity and expansion. Certainly, it is worth demonstrating to the small farmers who have, through the project, embraced shadehousde technology, that a willingness to contemplate and implement options in their approach to agriculture will be rewarded with official endorsement and support.

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