Bermuda plans for agricultural sustainability

Bermuda’s Royal Gazette reports on the island’s preparations for potential food shortages as climate change causes havoc with crops around the world. The Island’s isolated position, the paper argues, means it must look to growing its own produce in order to survive. Here are some excerpts from the article with a link to the full text below.

According Dr. Anne Glasspool international food shortages “may present one of the most significant challenges facing society. This is a growing global concern that will impact Bermuda.” In her climate change report, she says: “It is clear that with ongoing growth of the world’s human population compounded by the widespread loss of valuable farmland, increasing scarcity of fresh water, and global challenges to pollinating species, food security and availability will become a critical motivating factor driving local and international policies once again. Safeguarding agricultural land for future food production could be critical to securing Bermuda’s future.”

Although farming was once “the mainstay” of the local economy, loss of agricultural land to development and the arrival of improved refrigerated transport systems mean it has declined. In 1912, 1,214 hectares were under cultivation in Bermuda, with onions and lilies the major crops. The Island was a major exporter of vegetables to the US until the 1930s. Now however the agricultural industry only contributes one percent to the gross national product, employing less than 200 people in cultivation of 154 hectares. Only 20 percent of the Island’s fresh produce is locally produced and just 15 percent of eggs. Up to 56 hectares of land are also farmed by homeowners, of which half are fruit trees.

Backyard gardening therefore represents about 27 percent of the land currently used for the production of fruit and vegetables and an estimated 39 percent of the population engages in some form of vegetable gardening,” says Dr. Glasspool. This is something to be encouraged, but plant nurseries and garden supply stores are already reporting seeds and seedling sales increasing by ten percent per year.

Climate change however, will mean innovative solutions are needed in local agriculture to safeguard crops. Threats include salt water intrusion from sea level rise, temperature changes, soil salinisation and heavy rainfall affecting soil stability. “Adaptation and mitigation measures will require a proactive approach that builds resilience into our agricultural systems including more focus on organic farming, backyard gardens and community farms, experimentation with different crops, ongoing vigilance against pest species and more infrastructural support in the event of storms,” writes Dr. Glasspool.

It is noted that Hurricane Fabian put several local farmers out of business (Government report, 2003). Dr. Glasspool suggests adoption of the Bermuda Board of Agriculture’s 2004 recommendations which include a farming apprenticeship programme to train future generations and the promotion of farming within cultural tourism.

Organic agriculture, low tillage and permanent soil cover would also increase the soil’s organic carbon which would stablise the soil structure to absorb higher amounts of water, therefore preventing soil erosion and flooding. This would also provide higher resilience against lack of water from rising global temperatures.

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