How climate change is affecting farmers in Tobago

Tomato farming; photo via Canva Pro.

This story was written by a member of Cari-Bois’ first cohort of youth journalists, who examined the ways in which climate change affects each of their communities. It was first published on Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, and a version of the post appears below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

By Adonai Crosby

Agriculture is the main economic activity for residents of the village of Les Coteaux, Tobago, and one that has traditionally sustained their livelihoods — but over the last 15 years, they have observed that increasingly warmer temperatures have been affecting their ability to farm.

Rising temperatures associated with climate change jeopardise many aspects of agriculture, including the times at which certain crops are grown, the amount of water farmers use to water them, the yields, and even the prevalence of crop diseases.

In a 2021 report of two climate vulnerability assessments, Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning and Development warned that “climate change is a clear and present danger to the country’s economic viability and the safety of its people.”

While the farmers of Les Coteaux have prided themselves on their ability to be self-reliant, recent decreases in crop yields have seen some villagers turning to imports to close the gaps in instances where there are deficits in supplies. Given the rate of inflation and rising food costs; however, this isn’t sustainable.

Les Couteaux farmer Hamilton Crosby recalls that he used to be able to grow as much as 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of tomatoes per season, but in the past few years, that number has dipped to an average of 1,500 lbs (680 kg). He says the decreasing yields are a result of increasingly tough growing conditions, with extremely dry weather in some growing seasons, and over-saturated soils in others, when there is extreme rainfall. Apart from a decline in quantity, changes in the quality of produce can also result in fewer sales.

Farmers have been trying to be reasonable with the prices at which they sell their produce. However, efforts to adapt to changing conditions, like the need for increased irrigation, have often caused the price of production to increase.

According to data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the earth’s temperature has risen by an average of 0.08 degrees Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 1880.

Naturally, the adverse effects climate change is having on agriculture aren’t limited to Tobago. Floods can destroy agricultural fields and crops, which can disrupt food production in flood-prone areas. Families reliant on agriculture for their survival can suffer extensive financial losses. During the devastating 2018 Trinidad floods, for instance, farmer Richard Singh lost over three million dollars in equipment, and 200 acres worth of crops. Rising sea levels can also affect the country’s coastal farmers, who find themselves increasingly vulnerable to flooding.

There is no other choice but to find ways in which to mitigate climate change, and act on them. Planting trees is a very effective way to remove carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), which contributes to the increases in global temperature through the greenhouse effect. A moringa tree, for instance, has the ability to remove up to 176 lbs (80 kg) of carbon dioxide annually. The implementation of renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, can also go a long way in reducing carbon emissions.

Actions like these, when added up, could well prove critical in the fight against climate change, and in the survival of farmers in areas like Les Coteaux. When done in a timely manner, the right actions can not only help Trinidad and Tobago’s farmers but also the earth itself.

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