New initiatives to popularize shadehouse farming

The steady popularization of shadehouse farming in coastal Guyana owes much to the contributions of the Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Partners of the Americas, a Washington-based non-governmental organization, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Caribbean Self-Reliance International (CASRI), a Canadian-based non-governmental organization. They may not be the only organizations to have made a mark in seeking to equip coastal small farmers to pursue the option of cultivating fruits and vegetables ‘off the ground’ – so to speak. They are, however, the current prime movers behind a push to ensure that shadehouse or hydroponic farming makes a mark in the country’s agriculture sector.

First IICA, then Partners of the Americas and after that the IDB have pumped millions of dollars into shadehouse agriculture. All of the initiatives were not unqualified successes. Kelvin Craig is the Country Coordinator for the Farmer to Farmer Project which seeks to improve economic opportunities and create sustainable livelihoods by linking farming communities by United States volunteer experts, who provide technical assistance, to producers and agribusinesses. Craig will also oversee the execution of the second IDB-supported project.

Kelvin Craig
Kelvin Craig

Craig explained that IICA’s initial attempt to support the introduction of shadehouse technology among conventional growers was initially greeted with indifference. It seems that having grown accustomed to farming conventionally over a protracted period, the farmers were simply resistant to change. “After the 2005 floods people were somewhat more attentive to recommendations that had to do with planting off the ground,” Craig said.

Through the farmer to farmer project, shadehouse farming has secured sustained and critical exposure through visits to their farms by specialists from the US via Partners of the Americas. Earlier this week the Project Secretariat announced that yet another visitor, Kelly Young, an Extension Agent attached to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service will visit Guyana from April 8-20 to conduct training in growing vegetables in containers. In his advisory on the visit of at least the fifth US expert under the auspices of Partners of the Americas in recent months, Craig said that it was recognized that container type gardening would be more appropriate for persons who have limited space and who are interested in small-scale, home-based production largely for domestic use or for limited sales.

The IDB, it seems had been persuaded by the outcomes of the Partners of the Americas work in  hydroponics, so much so that a close collaboration evolved in the execution of the subsequent IDB-funded project. Partners of the Americas are keeping faith with the farmers in the coastal regions of Guyana who have already been converted to hydroponics. Their organization is awaiting the conclusion of

formalities that will enable the release of a US$1.1 million Japanese grant which will be administered through the IDB to continue their work with hydroponics.

The accomplishments, up to this time, have been limited. A relatively small number of farmers have ‘signed on’ to the shadehouse technology and while the number of shadehouses that have been built so far are more than twice the twenty that had been planned, Craig says that a marketing component which had originally been built into the shadehouse project plan has had to be set aside. The simple truth is that despite the initiatives which the project have taken to support the farmers, production is limited and farmers are able to market the hydroponically produced foods that they grow in their own communities with limited effort.

One of the high points so far of the combined efforts of Partners of the Americas and the Farmer to Farmer Project to raise the profile of shadehouse farming in Guyana was the June 5th, 2012 Assembly held at the Pegasus Hotel attended by more than  200 people. Apart from showcasing locally grown hydroponic shadehouse produce the project attracted First Lady Deolatchmee Ramotar whom, we are told is a hydroponics enthusiast.

If the idea of hydroponic vegetable production – cultivating plants without soil, either in water or some other inert medium has not exactly taken Guyana by storm, Craig believes that the persistence of the entities that have been pushing the shadehouse technology coupled with the keenness of some farmers to embrace options could sustain interest in it. He concedes that cost will, in some instances, prove  a deterrent. This newspaper has learnt, for example, that the construction of a fair-sized shadehouse can cost the owner upwards of $300,000. Since the current project targets primarily poor, rural farmers Craig says that part of the focus is to encourage farmers to utilize used wood and other materials in order to reduce costs.

Craig says that the forthcoming IDB (Multilateral Investment Fund) shadehouse initiative will retrace ground that has already been covered as well as target urban households in Region Four and in other coastal communities. He believes that the hydroponic method is adaptable to non-farmers who might still be interested in the satisfaction of cultivating some of their food. That apart the farming is simple. Indeed, at its simplest all it might take are a handful of vegetable seeds, an appropriate medium substrate and a two-litre plastic bottle.

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