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Thursday, September 26

St. Lucia Floral Cooperative Field Trip

The St. Lucia Floral Cooperative Society Limited (SLFCSL) is the primary representative body of the flower producers in St. Lucia since its establishment in 1999.  Previously, the organization named the St. Lucia Flower Growers Cooperative performed this function. A historic perspective provided in “Profiles of Farmer Organisations in Saint Lucia” a publication of IICA, speaks of the Flower Growers Cooperative in its formative years as “experiencing the customary growing pains characterized by the vicious circle: farmers do not take an active role in the organization because the group cannot offer services, and the group cannot offer services because their membership is small and the farmers do not play an active role”.  From its headquarters at Vide Bouteille, Castries the SLFCSL manages its island-wide membership for increased productivity and developing local, regional and international markets. Some of the products marketed by the SLFCSL include anthuriums, heliconias and ginger lilies.
In the spirit of volunteerism, I have accompanied the SLFCSL on several field trips to their membership. The purpose of the interaction is to facilitate dialogue on production challenges and other concerns of the members. If you are new to the industry as I was, you will the following notes interesting:

Orchid production is growing business in St. Lucia. Although production has increased, large quantities of these blooms are imported to meet market demand. When bought from the Tissue Culture Lab at Union the medium used is sphagnum moss. However, the SLFCSL recommends washed pebbles as a sustainable option for transplanting with a small part of the initial sphagnum moss. For more orchid photos, please visit the D.I.G Facebook photo album.

The ant, the farmer; the shepherd to be more precise. The symbiotic relationship between ants and mealy bugs is termed mutualism. Mealy bugs produce a sugary substance called honey dew, a source of nourishment for the ants. In exchange, the ants tend the mealy bugs, often “shepherding” the “herd” of mealy bugs to the better "grazing pastures" in softer leaves and protecting them from predators. The delicate balance: Without the ants to consume the accumulation of honey dew, sooty mold would cover the area of the leaf and prevent the plant’s food manufacturing process resulting in growth retardation. On the other hand, the ants also destroy the flowers by building their nests in the blooms. This was observed in heliconias.
The ant, the farmer

The white fly is a major pest challenge to the floral industry, with particular effect on orchids. They too produce honey dew which is growth medium for sooty mold.
Anthurium leaf: white flies on the underside (left); sooty mold on the top (right)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Flowers of any kind are generally considered beautiful. Someone once commented that the beauty is powerful to stave off hunger. You would agree that the attraction of flowers is predominantly the brightly coloured petals. Consider then the beauty of “green anthuriums” and “brown hibiscus” hybrids.
Is this your kind of beautiful?
Saint Lucia flower production is not characterized by large farms, but primarily by backyard production. 
Feel free to contact the SLFCSL for assistance when you decide to start your venture or to participate in its floral subsciption service.


St. Lucia Floral Cooperative Society

Profiles of Farmer Organisations in Saint Lucia

Tuesday, September 24

Your Cup of Tea- Worm Bush

Vermifuge-a medicine that expels parasitic, intestinal worms. The name of the worm bush or worm grass attests to its function. Other local names for the wormbush are "Zèb a vè" and "Semen contwé". When used for this purpose, oil is sometimes added. It is also believed to clean the womb after childbirth.

The bush is combined with other herbs as a remedy for 
  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • To treat wounds and sores (in the form of a poultice)
Worm bush (scientific name: Dysphania ambrosioides or Chenopodium ambrosioides) is credited with other healing properties and actions:
  1. Increases perspiration
  2. Functions as a natural diuretic: Increases urination
  3. Increases breast milk
  4. Promotes menstruation
  5. Stimulates digestion
  6. Kills cancer cells
  7. Mild sedative

It is said that the health benefits of any medicines can be gauged by how unpleasant the scent and taste. For some herbal medicines you may find yourself holding your breath while imagining cakes and candy. Worm bush is one such example. To subdue the strong taste, I usually add a few leaves of a minty tea such as basil. I hope this helps when next you have your cup of worm bush.


Friday, September 13

A Tough Nut to Crack!

It’s been years since youthful(ler) energy was spent breaking almonds (local name: zanmann) with stones. Those were the years when the days were seemingly longer-a portion of afterschool hours spent in nut cracking and eating was a social and leisurely activity. Recently a neighbour offered me some from heaps of fallen almonds in her yard. My response: “I’m too old for that!”. But in retrospect what I had really felt was: “Who has time for that?”. Convenience- the lifestyle trend which led to the rise of commercial food processing and retailing. In the name of convenience we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on imported almonds to place on supermarket shelves to satisfy consumer demand.

Young almonds

 Agriculture- A Labour of Love or A Love of Labour?

Dialogue on food security and local agribusiness is usually punctuated with remarks on the abundant produce supply and lack of agribusiness that add value to this abundance. Almonds are bountiful- in season. Apart from seasonality, another challenge to the development of agribusiness is low mechanization.  Today I sit bent over, painstakingly extracting almonds out of their shells as I am sure my Amerindian and African ancestors did centuries before. This is both time-consuming and energy-consuming. However, some enterprising (and strong) persons from the Micoud to Deruisseaux gaps, manually shell these nuts and bag the raw nuts for sale. Roasted cashew nuts are also sold in season. The general response of consumers are: “But they are so EXPENSIVE!”. Would our willingness to pay appreciate if we fully understood the process from tree to tray? The nuts have to be collected, dried, cracked, bagged and stored. For cashews there is the additional process of roasting. Not to mention the emotional drain of resisting the urge to snack on the nuts!

Dried almonds
Almonds also have their share of the cottage industry of local treats. Almond is made into a brittle with sugar, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Other staples of the sweet treats market include fudge, jams and jellies made from an assortment of fruits, "coffee tea: and "guava cheese".

Can you see it? The almond nut is on the left.

Can you imagine how mechanization would revolutionize the nut business? Much like the Industrial Revolution was to Europe, during which technological advancements led to increased and sustained production and economic growth. Mechanization will benefit the agricultural sector with
  •   Increased production volume that will extend market share beyond roadside vendors’ trays to supermarket shelves and compete with foreign almonds.
  •   Higher volumes would challenge the issue of seasonality, with nuts stored for year-round distribution.
  •   Industrial roasting and shelling for even roasting and consistent results.

Their nuts vs. Our nuts: Is bigger better?

Despite the obvious benefits, St. Lucian agriculture has not adapted to improved mechanisation. Financial constraints hinder aspiring agripreneurs. Do we challenge our leaders to creating an enabling environment for agribusiness? Have we become demotivated by fruitless attempts? Have our policy makers and other stakeholders made up their minds to relegate local almond production to availability in season in small quantities and high prices; much like an antique put on display at Jounen Kweyol (Creole Day)? 

Please share your thoughts on a contemporary agribusiness environment for St. Lucia and the Caribbean.

FAO Document on Small-scale Cashew Nut Processing: