Antigua’s Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Dean Jonas said that the modern agricultural technology that is being used by the Chinese will greatly assist Antigua and Barbuda in food and nutrition security.

Minister Jonas made the remarks during a tour of the Green Castle Agricultural Station today (Thursday). The Green Castle station is the main experimental unit that is being used by the Chinese in the Agricultural Technology Cooperation Project between Antigua and Barbuda and China , which began in May last year.

According to Minister Jonas,   Antigua and Barbuda can be self sufficient in specific food crops and he is grateful to the People’s Republic of China for allowing the Yuan Longping High-Tech Company to share their expertise with the people of Antigua and Barbuda.

Minister Jonas said that the ministry is not only on a drive to improve food security but to play a bigger role in helping to reduce the incidents of Non Communicable Disease (NCDs).

 “Antiguans and Barbudans suffer a lot from diabetes, heart problems and excess fats in our bodies, so we are hoping that the use of more locally grown vegetables in our diets will help us to control or get rid of some of these NCDs.’ We tend to order most of our foods from overseas and we don’t know how they are grown so right now, we are trying to grow more locally so that we can be self-sufficient.”

Minister Jonas was part of a high level delegation paying a visit to the green castle facility to see firsthand , the level of crop production that is being undertaken as part of the the agricultural technology cooperation project agreement between Antigua and Barbuda and china, and from all accounts, they were very impressed.

He said that equipment are also being sourced as part the project, which also include equipment to set up a Tissue Culture Lab to propagate the best varieties of crops in Antigua and Barbuda. According to Jonas, this will be a big plus for the country in years to come.

The Agriculture Minister believes that Antigua and Barbuda can achieve food security by the end of this project 3-year project. The Chinese are now completing the experimental stage of this joint initiative and the main beneficiaries of the training component will be the farmers and other technical officers.

The agricultural project is an aid package from China to the tune of close 10 million EC dollars.  Antigua and Barbuda supports this project through a number of basic commitments.

The Chinese that are on the experimental farm comprise scientists, engineers and other technicians who provide advice, assistance and training.

“They are providing training and a whole lot of other stuff like that so that we can upgrade our skills in terms of agriculture technology, so it’s a technology transfer programme.”

The technology transfer programme started off a bit slow, according to First Secretary from the Chinese Embassy, Madam Sun Jinhuan, but gained momentum with cooperation from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The project is expected to provide training opportunities for some 600 farmers.

The Director of Agriculture, Jedidiah Maxime lauded that project which he said will have a transformative effect on the agriculture sector in Antigua and Barbuda.

He said that the intensive production system being used uses less resources and results in higher yields.

 “I feel good about this project, in the sense that we are currently on a drive to achieve food security for Antigua and Barbuda, and when we say food security, we are looking on our capacity to produce the food that we need. We might not be able to grow rice but when it comes to root crops, we should be able to grow all the root crops we need; we should be able to grow all the fresh vegetable crops that we need, so this project is assisting us in terms of intensifying our production systems so we can get higher yields from less land.”

He described the project as relevant as land is fast becoming a scarce resource.

He said that a lot of folks would like to get into agriculture but land availability may be an issue if modern farming strategies are not implemented.

“But if we are producing using the type of intensive production systems that the Chinese are advocating, then you can do farming on 2-3 acres of land and still get high yields and earn a livelihood.”

He said that the training will not only involve farmers but also technical officers in order to have that level of technology transfer which will have an impact on the overall agriculture sector.

Among the Crops being produced include long beans, cucumbers, lettuce and sweet peppers and discussions were held to engage experimental farming in broccoli, cauliflower and peanuts.

Maxime noted that Root Crops is one of the country’s strong points but producing them in an intense and economic way is important as a business approach is crucial to agriculture sustainability.

Sereno Benjamin, Extension Officer described the field of cabbage at Green Castle during the visit as ‘excellent.’

The Chinese confirmed that one of those cabbages weighs about five pounds

When asked about his views on the project, he said that new ways of doing things will always contribute to scope of knowledge which can in turn lead to development.

“I’ve always said that it is something that people should embrace and it is designed to be beneficial to persons.  I’ve been involved in the background of seeking to have the Chinese come to Antigua, I know that it is designed to be beneficial to Antiguans and Barbudans and people should give the project an opportunity and see what success it brings to our agricultural sector as we go forward,” Benjamin declared.

The project’s team leader Jing Jianqing who is an Agriculture Expert, said they are also working at Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) along with Green Castle, to teach staff and farmers how to use Chinese technology to increase different crops especially their vegetable yields.