Of late, I have been very preoccupied with a project to explore the waterways, rivers and streams of Saint Lucia in an attempt to encourage my fellows to nurture their heritage and preserve their birthright for generations to come. “Swen” would be the verb in kwéyòl, a beautiful word; it’s also the noun.
As part of the preparatory investigative work for the project, we have traversed the skies by helicopter in an attempt to trace the rivers from their sources to the sea, a task of extreme complexity and difficulty due to the ongoing, undeclared drought that no one wants to talk about. Have no doubt about it: Climate change is here. It has arrived. Our rivers, never much to boast about in the first place, are often no more than miserable dribbles, and the only trace of their existence is the foliage that clings to life thanks to underground moisture in riverbeds and gullies.
Despite this, the island is green, a resilient, stubborn green. Where farming takes places, irrigation occurs. Even from above, small, small pipes just a few inches in diameter can be seen crisscrossing the land carrying water from streams to fields. Things grow – everywhere!
Okay, okay, I know I am not a scientist, but I have enough in my head to know that this is a land of fertile soils and fecund diversity. Not everything will grow everywhere, but every patch of land can be used to grow something. Mealy-mouthed politicians with outstretched hands bemoan the lie that Saint Lucia is a land that lacks natural resources. Lie! Saint Lucia is rich in resources waiting to be called upon.
The Saint Lucia Handbook of 1903 lists fruits and vegetables that were produced 110 years ago and specifies their seasons. The list includes: Custard Apple, Golden Apple, Malacca Apple, Mammee Apple, Pineapple, Rose Apple, Star Apple and Sugar Apple. Banana, Bread Fruit, Bread Nut, Cashew, Cherry, Citron, Coconut, Dates, Damson, Gooseberry, Granadilla, Seaside Grapes, Muscat Grapes, Guava, Genip, Lemon, Lime, Mango, Melon, Oranges, Grenadines, Mandarins, Tangerines, Avocado Pears, Chili Plums, Hog Plums, Jamaica Plums, Java Plums, Pomegranate, Sapodilla, Shaddock, Sorrel, Soursop and Tamarind.
The handbook goes on to list the vegetables farmers grew: Beans, Beetroot, Carrots, Cabbages, Cassava, Celery, Christophene, Indian Corn, Cucumber, Cush Cush, Eddoes, Eschalot, Garden Eggs, Lettuce, Gombo or Okra, Pawpaw, Pigeon Peas, Plantain, Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, Radish, Spinach, Succory, Tannia, Tokee Tambo, Tomato and Yam. Among the spices that flourished were: All Spice, Bay Leaf or Bois d’Inde (bwadenn), Black Pepper, Cloves or Jiwòf, Cinnamon or Kannèl, Cassia or Kas, Ginger or Jenjanm, Nutmeg & Mace or Miskad, Pepper or Piman, Vanilla or Vanni.
And all these are just the traditional crops of over a century ago. Who knows what modern fruits and vegetables would flourish in this green and pleasant land? Saint Lucia has friends, good friends who are among the best in the world when it comes to agriculture: Taiwan and Israel. Let’s ask for help to modernize our industry and make farming attractive, efficient and profitable, and our stomachs less reliant on imports.
So where do we start? Well, first of all, as a sort of mini-baseline-study to ascertain our awareness of the importance of agriculture in this country, hands up all of you who know the name of our Minister of Agriculture! How much do we spend on agricultural imports per annum? How much are our agricultural exports worth? How many people are employed in agriculture? By how many millions of dollars per year does our government support agriculture? How much is spent on research? How much is spent of infrastructure? How much is spent on subventions to farmers? How does the tourist industry support local agriculture? Do you consistently buy local? I do. Imported tomatoes? Ugh! Tasteless!
Our land is our greatest natural resource and we neglect it shamelessly. We need a Green Party that cares for the agriculture industry, not just the environment. We need to mobilize, create jobs, exports and income, and show the world that beggars can become benefactors. We need a strong, visionary leader: A Czar of the Land.
The Saint Lucia Handbook of 1924 reports that in one year over 52,000 fer de lance were killed by bounty hunters. In the relative absence of serpents, perhaps now is the time to create a new and vibrant Garden of Eden – without the nudity, naturally; we can put the fig leaves to better use.