Kitchen gardens may be the answer to improved mental health but not to reducing food prices in the region or to substantially cutting the Caribbean’s food import bill.
It is now an established fact that a daily regimen of working in a kitchen garden does wonders for your mental health. Perhaps this explains why there are so many crazy individuals walking around the country today. They are product of a society which has deemphasized kitchen gardens. Spending a half an hour just watering the plants or working the soil in your garden is therapeutic.
But kitchen gardens are not the answer to increased food prices and they are not the answer to reducing a country’s food bill. They may help put some food on the table and therefore free some income for other purposes, but this income is invariably spent on other food items which previously could not be afforded.
In Guyana, kitchen gardens have a special significance. Many kitchen gardens in Guyana are sown not for the kitchens but to supplement the incomes of those working the gardens. Quite a number of the local fresh- food vendors in Guyana actually plant their own kitchen gardens and it is from these gardens that they make their living by selling their produce in the markets.
It would surprise many persons just how many of those persons selling outside of the main markets of the country are actually kitchen gardeners, their plots being no bigger than the average rural kitchen garden with a few beds.
These kitchen gardeners have regular customers who purchase from them because Guyanese are becoming health conscious. Many want organic products or at least produce which have not been treated with chemicals or fertilizers. These kitchen garden venders are increasing and especially in the rural areas, kitchen gardens are a valuable source of income for many individuals.
But there is a downside. Farming on such a small scale ultimately means that the cost to the consumer will be high relative to what may have obtained had most of our food been supplied by large farms. If on the other hand, most of the produce sold came from large farms, it would place many poor persons on the breadline.
At the same time, food prices are increasing globally and the food bill for families is thereby increasing. This means that as imported food products increase, locally produced food prices are not decreasing simply because of the fact that too many farmers are farming in small plots.
There is a large export market for Guyana’s food but this demand can only be met by large farmers since there are costs associated with reaching the required international export standards and shipping and associated costs.
As such, there should be a deliberate effort on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture to promote large scale farming to meet this demand and also to satisfy local needs.
As part of encouraging large scale farming, the government should insist that these farms assign a specified portion of their production for local consumption, in order to be eligible for land grants and whatever other assistance can be provided by the government.
The government should also assist small farmers by providing them with access to new technologies that can significantly boost their production. It has now been scientifically established that small greenhouses can boost production and therefore multiply the annual earnings of small farms, including kitchen gardens.
These structures are not costly relative to the returns and other technologies such as the drip system can save on water and ensure that the plants get just the right amount of moisture necessary to maximize yields.
Allowing small farmers to improve their yields would boost their incomes as well as help to reduce food prices since more production would be forthcoming. In the long run however, neither domestic nor export food needs can be adequately and cheaply met from small farms.
Large farms are needed but there must be an insistence and strict monitoring to ensure that at least 20 per cent of the production of these farms ends up on the domestic market so as to stabilize and satisfy local food demand at an affordable cost to the consumer.
The Jagdeo administration is eyeing up large farms, but these proposed farms are to help the Brazilians satisfy their food needs by farming lands in Guyana and exporting the food to northern Brazil. This is not a model that will work in Guyana since this is food production geared primarily with export tastes and export markets in mind.
Kitchen gardens cannot be the answer to the Caribbean’s food needs. They may be good form of relaxation and a hobby for many, but if your food supply is going to be dependent on kitchen gardens we are going backwards rather than forwards.
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