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Small farming and “traditional” agriculture in the Caribbean

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In today’s world, where everyone is striving towards modernisation of the highest form in all aspects of life, there seems to be less and less space for traditional ways of doing anything anymore. It is no different in the agricultural sector. Agricultural geography may be seen as being rooted in outmoded concerns for “natural resources” and “basic human needs” in an economic era of “signs and space” (Lash & Urry, 1994). At every turn, new chemicals, machinery, and more “modern” methods of farming and agriculture are being touted as the best and only means of advancement.

High yields of crops are favoured over their quality, and large farms which specialise in monocropping are fast replacing smaller farms which have more diversified crop varieties but smaller yields. It seems as though, in order to please the masses, sacrifices have to be made; these sacrifices being the small-scale farms and their traditional, “old-fashioned” methods.

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But is this direction truly the best possible option for the Caribbean, where little change has taken place in terms of agronomic practices since the days of slavery (Rankine, 1972)? Are large harvests of only a limited variety of crops worth the larger amounts of chemicals and inputs necessary for their production? Are these methods sustainable or environmentally friendly? Is “modern” agriculture all it’s claimed to be? These are the question that this paper will seek to uncover the answers for, and in so doing, reveal why modern agriculture may not necessarily be the best choice for traditionalist, small-scale Caribbean farmers.

The main advantage modern agriculture has over traditional agriculture is that it simply yields more harvest. This has been achieved by getting rid of small farms and instead creating extremely large farms which focus on the cultivation of usually only one type of crop. This is the agricultural practice known as monocropping. However, this is limited to mainly cereals and grains, as they produce greater amounts of harvest, and also because high-yielding varieties have been developed, which have been quickly taken advantage of by the owners of these large farms.

This has resulted in a change in diet and nutritional and caloric intake of citizens of developed countries in particular, where “modern” agriculture has taken root. According to research, about 60% of our calories come from corn, rice and wheat (Science2.0, 2011). In addition to this, the practices of modern agriculture include using large quantities of chemicals such as fertilisers, weedicides, and pesticides in order to get the maximum potential harvest from their crops. According to farmer, Wendell Berry, “To celebrate output without questioning input is like rejoicing in the water flowing out of the dam without wondering whether any water is flowing in to replace it” (Meadows). Not only do these chemicals get into the soil and damage it irreparably over time, but just imagine what they do to our bodies after we ingest the food they have treated.

In spite of all this, modern agriculturists continue to pressure Caribbean small-scale farmers to give up their traditional methods in favour of the “new and improved” ones. However, time and again, they have been met with great resistance from the Caribbean farmers. The reasons being that serious flaws exist in the ways in which modernisation initiatives have been presented to the farmers. The people who present innovations and modernisation to farmers should be willing to modify their cold rationalism to accommodate the subjective rationalism of farmers and consideration must be given to an understanding of the decision-making processes of small-scale farmers (Collymore, 1984, 1986). Most farmers have rational reasons for choosing not to adopt innovations to postpone adopting an innovation, or to discontinue the use of one. In Jamaica, for example, the small-scale farming sector is integral to the country’s development because it is an important economic activity of many rural farmers.

It also plays a role in the national drive towards food security through a high degree of self-sufficiency and increased domestic and food production. Indigenous knowledge, environmental awareness and also the changing economic and physical conditions are all critical components in farmers’ perceptions and assessments, and consequently, their decision-making in terms of modernisation innovations. They are also greatly influenced by family and community traditions, since the use of traditional methods is part of the cultural ecology of farming in Caribbean islands in general. Caribbean small-scale farmers solve many of their problems by seeking advice and sharing ideas within their communities, which they would not be able to do effectively with the introduction of new technologies.

In addition to this, most farmers based their decision not to modernise, not only on perception, but also on the fact that there was simply a lack of information about the systems, as they were not presented clearly to them in easily-understood ways (Beckford, 2002). Although the world-trend in agriculture appears to be moving away from small farms, what they do not seem to take into consideration are the numerous advantages of small-scale farming. Small farms embody a diversity of ownership, of cropping systems, landscapes, biological organisation, culture and traditions; all of which make this diversity a great superiority over the incredibly un-diverse monocultures of large-scale farming. Diversification and small-scale commercial production can also be effective ways to not only increase yields, but to increase income and maximise opportunities from increasingly fragmented land holdings. Another great benefit of small-scale farming is that the sustainable methods of farming utilised are very environmentally friendly and do not damage or degrade the soil in the ways that the harsh chemicals used by large farms do.

Also, since small farmers are more likely to intercrop various crops on the same field and integrate crops and livestock, they make more effective use of the space and time than large monocultures. Intercropping has been proven to reduce the spread of plant disease and pest infestation, stabilise production and increase income, and improve efficiency and labour, as well as the use of other resources under conditions of intensification and low technology (Dorsey, 1999). The overuse of these chemicals could potentially lead to another Dust Bowl. Small-scale farming also allows for community empowerment since decentralised land ownership tends to produce more and more equitable opportunities for rural people.

Additionally, landowners who rely on local people, businesses and services are likely to be more responsible. Small farms are also vital to the economy since there are fewer import costs on food if the majority of the suppliers are local. Finally, people are awarded a personal connection to the food they consume, as farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture, among other ventures, give consumers a sense of security in knowing where their food comes from, and what effect its production has on landscape and environment (Rosset, 2000). This is especially important since in this day and age people are more concerned about consuming healthy foods and are more interested in being aware of where and how their food was cultivated or reared. It has also been found that when the total output of farms is measured, as opposed to yield, small farms come out on top of large farms. Caribbean small-scale farmers have every reason to refuse to accept modern agricultural innovations involving the use of strange hybrid crop variations and intensive chemical treatments.

This is especially true since research has shown that practices long used by the indigenous peoples have now been given new names and are being put forward as being “modern”. Indigenous agricultural systems practiced techniques knows as “Principles of Permanence” that permitted continuous cropping year-round without the use of chemicals which degrade the environment. These principles also do not deplete the earth’s natural resources, but instead often replenish them. The “modern” name for this practice is called ecological agriculture and is thought to be the most effective method of promoting sustainable development since it sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more cheaply and efficiently than man-made processes. Therefore, traditional knowledge and practices should be considered the essential factors in solutions for the problems of preserving biodiversity, promoting sustainable development, and mitigating climate change.

Therefore in conclusion, it is very obvious that in terms of sustainability, quality, economics, and even the ultimate productivity, traditional small-scale farming trumps “modern” large-scale farming. Caribbean farmers ought not to give in to the pressures being placed on them by large companies from “developed” countries, and should instead continue using the proven methods they are accustomed with.

Cite this Small farming and “traditional” agriculture in the Caribbean

Small farming and “traditional” agriculture in the Caribbean. (2016, Jun 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/small-farming-and-traditional-agriculture-in-the-caribbean/

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