This initiative was birthed during discussions of the Emerald Farm Manager, Dr. Pawan Srivastava, with project partners, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Caribbean Aqua-Terrestrial Solutions (CATS) Programme which is implemented jointly by the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
The partners identified their mutual interest in mushroom cultivation: Emerald Farm, through its interest in growing its own wide variety of mushrooms, the Ministry of Agriculture by way of its thrust toward diversification of the agricultural sector and building capacity of the local farming community and the CATS Programme through its interest in supporting sustainable initiatives to build climate change resilience, encourage good agricultural practices and enhance livelihoods.
A critical success indicator for this initiative will be the ability of the farmers to transfer their training into a tangible source of revenue. To facilitate success, the participants were granted a buffer period post training for planning their businesses, using the information garnered, and subsequently be privy to technical and resource support from the project partners during their first six months of having commenced their businesses. This support will assist them in ‘weathering’ the challenging start-up phase of small business evolution.
The mushroom cultivation sector is still fairly new to Saint Lucia. There are two known commercial farmers of this food on island and they are based in the north. One of these successful entrepreneurs was also assisted by the principal facilitator of this initiative, Mr. Thaddeus Constantin, Agronomist at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Co-operatives. This inspiring success story has been compiled in a documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPnxjWEtDXk). The training delivered this week included included theory and practice of mushroom cultivation and basics of agribusiness by Mr. Constantin and a culinary presentation by the Chef of Anse Chastanet/Jade Mountain.
Liaison Officer of the CATS Programme, Ms. Mandy St. Rose, recognizes mushroom cultivation is a sustainable option for local farmers, who otherwise would by challenged with high reliance on chemical pesticides, unpredictable yields due to unpredictability of weather conditions, pests and diseases, poor soil quality, and dependence on external markets for farming supplies.
Contrary to traditional methods the growing conditions for mushroom cultivation are largely controlled by the farmer, thereby eliminating the vulnerability of the crop to climate change effects. The mushrooms are grown in composted or recycled materials, and spent growing media can be returned to the production cycle through composting. This intervention is therefore perfectly suited as an example of an intervention to promote sustainability within the agricultural sector.
A total of 11 farmers were trained and are now equipped to start their small businesses. In an effort to ensure scale-up of this initiative and technology transfer at the national level, the group of trainees included individuals from two community groups and one individual outside the Soufriere Watershed. Gender consideration guided the training with a resulting 18% of the trainees are female while 27% of the trainee population is below the age of 40.
The initiative is supported through local CATS Programme partner, the Belle Vue Farmers’ Cooperative and received sponsorship and support from Harris Paints Ltd. and the Fond St. Jacques Development Committee. The final day of the 5-day training culminates with a Closing Session at 1pm at the Emerald Farm, Diamond, Soufriere, St. Lucia.