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Backyard gardens – a key component of any post-COVID agriculture plan

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Posted: Tuesday, September 8, 2020. 10:04 pm CST.

By Hugh O’Brien: It may not be grandeur like the opening of a new magnificent building or newly constructed bridge, or a multi-million dollar project that a Minister can brag about, and it may not be easily measured in terms of its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but actively supporting backyard gardening should form an integral part of any post-COVID agriculture recovery plan for Belize. One of the positive things that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there is a renewed interest in farming…lots of people want to grow something in their small plot of land in the villages. Some people are even planting in pots and containers on their verandahs and turning small outdoors spaces into lush, productive gardens, even in the towns and cities. Never before has there been such a great interest to plant and produce even a little bit of what we consume. The time has never been better to support backyard gardening, and what better way to ensure food security and climate smart agriculture than to nurture this zeal to plant that currently exists, partly due to COVID-19, in our young nation.

A few weeks ago Minister of Agriculture, Godwin Hulse, presented the government’s agriculture recovery plan, and the centerpiece of the plan was the spending of some $100 million in borrowed money to ‘develop’ agriculture in Belize. While this article is not intended to analyze the government’s plan in any detailed way, or to support or discredit it, I was disappointed that there was no mention of any support for backyard gardening or for an expansion of the school gardening programs that were launched in the early 2000 in the Toledo district. 

On Wednesday, 9th September, Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Jose Mai, will present the Opposition’s agriculture plan, and it is my hope that apart from the large and grandeur statements that will be made, that the Opposition’s plan will outline some support to encourage backyard and school gardens and feed the frenzy to plant that prevails across Belize currently.

And in promoting these backyard gardens, not much financing is needed … mostly will, commitment and some innovation is required. The Ministry of Agriculture can lead the way by producing and distributing seeds of easy to grow crops such as okra, cucumber, string beans, perennial black beans and cowpeas, red kidney beans, corn, sweet potato, cassava, cocoyam and others. For vegetables where the seeds are very expensive, the seedlings of tomato, sweet pepper, cabbage, pak-choi, lettuce etc. can be planted and made available for sale in small quantities in Central Farm and the district agriculture stations across the country so that the ‘backyard farmers’ can access small quantities of seedlings at an affordable price. And lastly, it is the right time to promote non-traditional, very nutritious and easy to grow greens such as chaya, moringa (miracle tree), spinach and callaloo that need no pesticides and can be harvested throughout the year.

To top it all off, short videos on how to grow sweet potato in tyres, spinach on trellis, tomato in old 5 gallon crystal bottles, callalloo in pots, cilantro and lettuce in small containers, chaya in your backyard. These videos can be posted online, on the Press Office Facebook page, and can be shared with the various news outlets for them to post on their online platforms.

Where there is a will, there is a way, and there is no better time to “LET’S GET GROWING” if we are to take advantage of the strong interest in Belizeans to grow something  in the jewel.

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