Smart strategies: Sowing the seeds of climate-resilient agriculture in the Caribbean

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria decimated the agriculture sector in Dominica and Barbuda. By employing climate adaptation and climate-smart agriculture strategies, both countries are working to ‘build back better’ to ensure their agriculture sectors are more resilient.

Hurricane Maria caused widespread devastation to Dominica’s agriculture sector © Tomás Ayuso/

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, losses of €160 million for the agricultural sector were estimated by a post-disaster needs assessment in Dominica – led by the World Bank, EU and UN. As a first step to rehabilitation, €565,000 for emergency intervention was mobilised by FAO and, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Dominica, agricultural inputs such as seeds, seedlings, water containers, tools, fertilisers, animal feed and material for animal shelters were supplied and distributed to more than 4,000 households. Emergency projects have also been developed to rehabilitate the fisheries sector, which suffered damage worth about €2.4 million, by providing fishing nets, cooling systems and fishing gear. Farmers will also be trained in climate-smart agricultural production techniques, accessing markets and nutrition.

In addition to providing immediate short-term assistance, in coordination with Dominica’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, FAO has identified key priority areas for the long-term rehabilitation of the agricultural sector. “Road and farm land clearance remain imperative to enable many farmers in the country to resume their agricultural production,” explains Daniele Barelli, FAO Emergency Focal Point and Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist in the Caribbean. “There is also a need for the region to conduct agricultural censuses, which are more than 15 years old in most countries, and maintain historical data on the recurrence of natural hazards and agricultural production of the past 5–10 years to act as a baseline, which would make it easier to assess the impact of natural disasters and recommend preparedness, mitigation and recovery interventions to support the sector,” Barelli adds.

Rebuilding Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda’s agricultural sector also suffered damage estimated at €400,000 as a result of the hurricane, including to standing crops, machinery, agricultural input tools and livestock. Prior to the disaster, Barbuda had adopted a ‘green island concept’ to build climate resilience and achieve food security. Alternative energy sources, including solar and wind, smart greenhouses, organic agriculture, mechanisation, efficient use of water resources, and adding value to agricultural produce through processing and packaging were all key elements. To build on this concept, a model hydroponics system is being installed at the island’s largest secondary school, the Sir McChesney George Secondary School, by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and other partners. The initiative should be 10-18 times more productive than conventional farming methods and will provide at least 30% of the food required for the school’s feeding programme, enable students to gain hands-on-experience of how the system works, and train people nationally to construct and operate the system.

Sustaining the recovery

To further improve technical and institutional capacity for disaster and climate risk management and sustainable agriculture in the region, FAO is also implementing a project in Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname. In a separate project, the feasibility of offering agricultural risk insurance is also being assessed in Grenada, Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “We have also been providing technical assistance for the development of readiness proposals to Guyana and St. Kitts and Nevis, with respect to accessing the Green Climate Fund which invests in low-emission and climate-resilient development,” says Lystra Fletcher-Paul, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean. “While most Caribbean countries are not large emitters of greenhouse gases the impact of climate change has hit them hardest,” she adds. As a result, FAO in collaboration with CARICOM and its partners across the Caribbean are also preparing for future extreme weather events by developing a regional Emergency Response Strategy and Action Plan for the agriculture sector – addressing the main response challenges of coordination, data and communications – which should be ready before the start of the next hurricane season.

Natalie Dookie

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.