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Going with organic agriculture

Hallam Hope

Going  with  organic  agriculture

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The lamentation is well known: chronic illnesses are costing the Barbadian economy millions of dollars annually. Such illnesses, including strokes and heart attacks, are bad for the economy and business as they may rob a country of some of its best brains at an early age and drive up health costs that consumers ultimately pay for through taxes.
Initiatives such as the programmes of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados emphasize healthy eating, steady exercise and monitoring one’s health. We are told that more children are becoming obese and chronic illnesses are no longer associated with the elderly but increasingly with the youth as well.
Though small in number, authentic organic farmers are an invaluable source of information when it comes to herb-based drinks and products that offer alternatives to traditional medication, while experienced farmers recommend a variety of organic produce that contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
And despite the small number of farmers, as well as financial and organizational challenges facing the development of organic farming, the foundation is being laid by the Organic Growers and Consumers Association (OGCA) for better times.
GreenTech project
One project involving the association with which I am associated is GreenTech Barbados, whose objective is to support the farmers’ goals of a better educated society and increase the emphasis on this type of farming. Other members of the team are Rodney Greenidge, an experienced technology entrepreneur, and Chrystol Thomas, an economist whose role is team leader.
Allocated a small grant through the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST), the GreenTech Barbados team has been working closely with the Organic Growers and Consumers Association to achieve five objectives:
• establishing a Facebook page where consumers may visit for information on organic farming and interact with members of the association;
• creating a questionnaire to get key information from consumers about their awareness, use and demand for organic produce;
• promoting organic farming in traditional and social media;
• adapting new media such as short message service (text messaging) to promote the interests of the association; and
• transfering technology knowledge to the OGCA so that the farmers can sustain the pilot project.
To date the Facebook page has been completed under the name Organic Growers And Consumers Association, while the questionnaire has been completed and some interviewers identified. The project has approached other potential partners, including the Heart & Stroke Foundation, to collaborate on its public information programme.
The Government Information Service will also be playing a role in public awareness.
SMS is a technology that allows for direct communication with individual cellphone users. It has been used successfully by businesses, churches and other institutions for advertising and marketing purposes to communicate directly to select audiences.
As the association moves to grow its membership and encourage more farmers to get involved in organically grown food, SMS could be an effective technology to help them sell their produce, promote the business of the association, and stay in touch. Hope Communications Inc, which has overall responsibility for the GreenTech Barbados project, offers SMS as one of its marketing and advertising services.  
The Caribbean has already shown interest in the project, including Jamaica, where officials of a national agriculture development programme involving the University of the West Indies, Mona, have met with me online to discuss our initiative.
A regional bid for funding has been submitted to the International Telecommunications Union by Hope Communications Inc. to implement a similar pilot project in Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados that would also use SMS and other technologies to promote organic farming in these countries.
• Hallam Hope is managing director of Hope Communications Inc. and project coordinator of GreenTech Barbados.