Youth agriculture programme bringing budding agriculturist closer to dream
Seatonia Blackman knows well the meaning of the proverb, Every cloud has a silver lining. The 26-year old youth agri-preneur had started her bachelor’s degree in Agriculture at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. After a year, however, she was forced to defer her studies due to financial constraints.
But now thanks to an exciting programme where young Barbadians are learning about the business of agriculture and contributing to the economic development of the country, Seatonia is closer to pursuing her dream of running a plant nursery.
Seatonia is one of 23 participants in the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator Programme, a four-month hands-on training programme where students between the age of 16 and 35 are gaining a greater appreciation of innovative forms of agriculture techniques such as alternative energy and scientific ways to enhance agriculture. The incubator programme is financed by the European Union through the Human Resource Development (HRD) Strategy, an innovative programme designed to help Barbados empower more of its people in its drive to become more competitive.
Specifically, the incubator programme deals with the component of the HRD Strategy which is tasked with enhancing research to improve innovation, entrepreneurship and development among Barbadians. The training covers four main areas: organic farming, technology in agriculture, research methods and business principles. It is expected that through the programme more sustainable and modern methods of agricultural practices will be introduced, the number of youth involved in agriculture will increase, and that sustainable agri-business ventures will be created.
As part of the programme, participants recently completed a four-day aquaculture workshop which included practical exercises at Adams Aqualife, a tilapia farm in St. Thomas. On the last day of the workshop, officials from the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development, the European Union and the media were taken on a tour of the farm by some of the students along with Kristina Adams of Adams Aqualife.
Many of the students have prior training or experience with agricultural techniques including Seatonia who holds a diploma in Agriculture from the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and has worked with the Soil Conservation Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Enthusiastic about incubator programme
Seatonia is enthusiastic about the incubator programme, which was launched in June. “It’s been really good and really informative. I’m learning a lot of things and enjoying it. Thus far we’ve done permaculture, we’ve done entomology, pathology, technology in agriculture and now we’re doing aquaculture so it’s just a whole lot of learning. It’s new and it’s great!”
Aquaculture, which is practiced at Adams Aqualife, and permaculture have stood out most for the budding agriculturist. She is intrigued by crayfish, which are freshwater lobsters, and likes that permaculture, which is a sustainable agriculture system concerned with working with not against nature, allows for the use of space without making many alterations to natural surroundings. “And in terms of water management there are different things you can use to divert water on your property so that it can supply all the plants around and you don’t have to have a high water bill,” the mother of two boys explained.
Seatonia’s love of agriculture is not lost on her family. Her mother is now interested in permaculture. “We’re planning to use different methods with permaculture around the house. My mother has started a worm bin already where you have earth worms in a container and you put vegetable scraps from the kitchen and other decomposing material, and the worms break it down. You add water to it and the juice that comes out is really high in nutrition so you can give it to your plants.”
Unlimited opportunities for young agri-preneurs
The HRD Strategy is managed by the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation.
Minister of Labour, Dr. Esther Byer interacted with Seatonia and other participants and said that they seemed quite eager and very excited. “This is quite encouraging because we have been hearing that young people are not interested in agriculture. But I’ve developed this theory that our young people are interested in agriculture, they are just not interested in the ‘hoe and fork in the ground’, the old technology. They want to do something that they can conceive of as being as exciting as anything else that they can put their hands to.”
Dr. Byer also noted that once young people were exposed to new techniques and technologies in agriculture there were unlimited opportunities ahead for them.
EU representative, Dr. Stephen Boyce, Task Manager for the Human Resource Development (HRD) agreed saying that interventions like the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator programme were imperative. “It’s important to have these types of programmes that provide a mix of the skills so that persons understand that you don’t go to agriculture when you have nothing else to do. You do it because it’s something that you want to do. In that way we’re able to attract the brightest and the best and we’re able to reposition agriculture so that it becomes part and parcel of the economic solution for this country.”
Coordinator of the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator programme, Kareem Payne described Seatonia as one of the programme’s “better and brighter” youth agri-preneurs. He added that Seatonia had expertise in grafting and would impart some of those skills to others in her class.
Bright future ahead
Seatonia sees a bright future ahead as she pursues her dream of owning a plant nursery specialising in grafting fruit trees. “I love plants and I love grafting, that’s my thing. I’m able to get the plants to live whenever I graft them so I just like to do it. I feel at peace when I’m doing it so if I can make money from something that I enjoy doing, why not?