Foundation Social Workplace Saba (FSWSaba) board chair René Caderius van Veen expressed high hopes for Saban agriculture following Monday’s visit of a delegation headed by Annemie Burger, Director General of Nature and Regional Policy of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL and I). Burger was interested in the local sustained efforts by FSWSaba to revive sustainable agriculture and especially interested in touring the Organoponics Farm at The Level.
During the afternoon, the delegation visited the gardens and listened to a presentation by Caderius van Veen about the various areas FSWSaba is tasked to cover within the community: adult education, social work opportunities and second chance education. These areas, he explained, are covered through the Adult Continuing Education Centre in The Bottom, The Organoponics Farm on The Level, and the SKJ program for people between 18 and 24.
His presentation covered the history of farming, the decline since the 1950s and the correlated increase in imports and cost of living. He briefed the delegation on the performance of the foundation of the Agricultural Centre and The Horticulture Foundation since 1981, and its cooperative approach to promoting agriculture through renting and leasing land, constructing cisterns and related support. The presentation covered the relative collapse of that foundation in 1997, the reduction of activities to pesticide distribution and mosquito elimination.
He also spoke of the history of the Organoponics Garden started in 2007, with the support Cuba’s Institute of Fundamental Research in Tropical Agriculture (INIFAT) and the arrival of Cuban agricultural engineers Manuel Rolando Lopez Cervantes and Eduardo Rodriguez.
Current Cuban technical expert Otto Manuel Anderez was onsite together with Sabans Alexander Hassell, Alexter Rogers and Angeline Wilson employed at the gardens. The employees interacted with the delegates showing their produce. The delegates were treated to a tasting of local fruits, Saba spice, jams and other local products.
The presentation gave an overview not just of the current achievements within the garden programme, but also an outline of steps to be taken to engender a truly inclusive community agricultural revival programme. Under the banner “Green Hearts Organic Minds” and with the motto “Let’s grow the change we want to see! One Heart, One Love, One People, One Earth,” the self-sustainable Saba initiative hopes to broaden its community reach.
The flagship programme in this sense is Sabagro, which attracted the Wageningen University in conducting research on local opportunities for reducing Saba’s dependency on vegetable, fruit, herb and meat imports. The programme launched this May, assesses the island’s local product demand, farmland potential, local attitudes on reanimation of private gardening, the potential for an agricultural cooperative, the feasibility of small-scaled preservation of food and vocational education opportunities.
The official start of the research will be February 2013. The project already succeeded to re-vamp the weekly local produce market together with three local farmers. It conducted investigations into demand for produce by all supermarkets, restaurants and public kitchens. It mapped possible farmland, created an agricultural advice forum for supporting private gardening and hosted educational sessions for local youth. Sabagro is to become a means for promoting the expansion of private agricultural land through various means including “community gardens.” The report and recommendations by Wageningen University are expected before June 2013.
The most important outcome of the visit was a verbal commitment by Annemie Burger to the local agricultural efforts. On inquiry by Caderius van Veen she confided that the FSWSaba does not need to be concerned about applying for funding, that it is already within the discussions and will benefit out of the 10 million euros made available to the BES islands by EL and I.