The Caribbean is noted by the International Monetary Fund as being “among the 25 most vulnerable nations in terms of disasters per capita or land area”.The region faces particular vulnerabilities to sea-level rise, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, droughts and hurricanes, with the latter being exacerbated by climate change impacts.
The Caribbean region’s vulnerability to climate change has been well documented, as the region has continuously experienced an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as tropical storms, hurricanes and flash flooding. These disasters have caused significant destruction, as witnessed by the islands of Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada.
In Grenada, the 2004 devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan resulted in significant losses to the agricultural sector. The World Bank estimated that Hurricane Ivan destroyed up to 90% of forest vegetation and resulted in the loss of topsoil and nutrients crucial to agricultural production. Additionally, up to 85% of the island’s nutmeg crop was lost, with 60% of the trees completely destroyed. Similarly, 60% of the cocoa tree stock was destroyed. Other tree crops such as citrus, avocado and mango were also damaged, as were the vast majority of shade crops such as bananas. More than 3,000 farming families were impacted. Losses for the overall agricultural sector were projected at US$37 million.
In 2010, Hurricane Tomas caused major damage to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with the total loss attributed to the agricultural sector estimated at US$26 million. Similarly, in December 2013, a low-level trough system extensively damaged crops, livestock, farm roads and farmland. The losses to the agricultural sector were estimated at US$12 million.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria impacted Dominica with devastating consequences, affecting all sectors of the country. Damage to the agricultural sector was estimated at US$55 million. The effect of the hurricane directly undermined income and food and nutrition security for an island heavily dependent on its agricultural exports. The impact also extended to other islands in the region, as Dominica was a major exporter of vegetables, tubers and fruits to neighbouring islands. This event highlighted the nexus between devastation in one country and food shortages and insecurity among other islands in the region.
The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA, 2014) notes that there is significant evidence to suggest that the Caribbean is experiencing the effects of a changing climate, indicated by longer and more frequent droughts, greater variability in rainfall, and drier and hotter summers.
In the Eastern Caribbean, the agricultural sector has been severely impacted as a result of disasters, with millions of dollars in damages to the banana, cocoa and nutmeg industries.
Natural disasters have serious consequences for small farmers who have limited adaptive capacity to deal with the threats of such hazards to their operations and consequently their income. Storms, hurricanes and flood events have resulted in losses of agricultural assets, livestock, and crop infrastructure. There is no doubt that small farmers are greatly affected due to their inherent vulnerabilities, and comparatively lower capability for risk reduction and adaptation.
The Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) has recognised the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector and the urgent need for the implementation of appropriate programmes and projects to address the vulnerabilities faced by small farmers in the Caribbean. The CPDC has partnered with the Inter American Foundation (IAF) to implement a project which will promote the sustainability of small farming operations in the Eastern Caribbean islands through training in disaster risk management and preparedness.
With the impact of COVID-19, the project has been amended to include COVID-19 response activities to vulnerable rural populations in the three project countries. It will assist NGOs in strengthening their ability to respond to the needs of vulnerable groups and provide support and development services to their beneficiaries impacted by the pandemic.
- Improved “bottom-up” understanding of the impact of natural disasters and hurricanes on small scale farmers to determine the most appropriate preparedness, mitigation and response strategies.
- Increased awareness and education of small-scale farmers to manage the impact and effects of natural disasters and hurricanes on the micro/small scale holdings.
- Enhanced capacity of small-scale farmers to utilise disaster mitigation and preparedness techniques and strategies to assist in the sustainability of their operations.
- Enhanced service provision to vulnerable beneficiaries by NGOs to tackle challenges caused and/or exacerbated by COVID-19.
- Increased application of grassroots development approaches to the challenges faced by vulnerable groups impacted by COVID-19.
- Enhanced institutional capacity of NGOs securing their sustainability and improving their beneficiaries and donor relations.