The Cropper Foundation in Trinidad and Tobago is helping hillside farmers in Trinidad to manage their farms in ways that encourage high levels of biodiversity and ensure the continued provision of ecosystem services. CEC member Maurice Rawlins reports.
In 2009, The Cropper Foundation, with the financial support of the Inter-American Development Bank, engaged in a project called EcoAgriCulture to implement sustainable farming practices (SFPs) in two of Trinidad’s Northern Range hillside communities. The project, ultimately aims to design a model for protecting the local ecosystems and alleviating negative downstream impacts within watershed communities while ensuring sustainable livelihoods that can be replicated in other farming communities across Trinidad and Tobago. EcoAgriCulture is built on principles of participation and information-sharing, and thus the project activities are designed to facilitate collaborative learning and decision-making among stakeholders.
One of the major project activities was the completion of a baseline survey of the socio-economic and farming conditions in the two study areas. The baseline survey elucidated information on agronomic practices, types of crops grown and major issues affecting farmers, which in many cases were lack of tenure, and unpredictable economic returns from agriculture. The results of the baseline survey together with information gathered from interactive sessions with groups and individuals were used to inform the design of an intervention model for implementing SFPs in the two study areas. The intervention model was designed as a prerequisite to the development of intervention strategies for the target areas, and therefore considered community governance structures, community training and capacity development needs, research needs, and strategies for promoting SFPs.
A crucial step in the design of individual implementation strategies for farmers is the application of a high nature value farming index (HNVI) to farms. High nature value environments provide multiple ecosystem services, and therefore, have multiple and congruent values. In the case of farming in the Northern Range, farms not only provide commodity value, but can also be valuable for providing biodiverse habitats, and supporting ecosystem processes such as water and nutrient cycling, and erosion regulation; processes vital to the provision of freshwater and food, crop diversity, recreational, wildlife habitats from the Range. The HNVI provides a relative determination of how eco-friendly a farmer’s practices are based on four variables: local pest and disease pressure; agronomic practices; fertilizing practices; and management of crop growth. The HNVI has been applied to farms in the two study areas, and is being used as a basis for discussion and planning with farmers on various strategies for implementing SFPs.
Over the next four to five months, the project will engage farmers in a participatory process of developing, modifying and implementing farm management plans; these experiences will documented and shared, and used in the development of an EcoAgriCulture model.