The professional development activities outlined in this submission will focus on three key areas of educational need that will enhance the sustainability of the agricultural sector of the Virgin Islands. During the previous (2016-2017) training period progress was made regarding the introduction of the cooperative business model as a tool for economic development and sustainability. This proposal provides an opportunity to build upon this progress and respond to requests for additional training through continued educational programs.
The recent launching of the local Farm to School initiative provides an expanded marketing opportunity for producers through the sales of produce to the school lunch program. This new economic prospect for farmers also potentially exposes the student population to food borne health hazards. The Virgin Islands SARE team proposes a training program to increase knowledge and awareness of good agricultural practices and procedures to promote the safe handling of fruits and vegetables while promoting economic viability for producers and protecting community health.
The third area of the training program will focus on educating trainees on the topic of farm conservation planning to increase knowledge and awareness in holistic farm development to improve natural resource conservation. This activity builds upon previous efforts to promote natural resource conservation through the use of cover crops, terracing, and contour farming.
Collectively, the implementation of the 2017-2018 Professional Development Program events will serve to advance the growth of sustainable in the USVI through training in business development, natural resource conservation, and food safety practices to protect community health.
Project objectives from proposal:
The objectives for the 2016-2017 MSP proposal included increasing knowledge, awareness, and behavioral change in the following areas:
• Climate Change phenomenon and appropriate mitigation strategies
• The Cooperative Business Model
• The use of cover crops to enhance soil health and improve farm production
• The use of conservation covers and buffers as soil management strategies on hilly terrain
The objectives for the 2017-2018 MSP proposal are to increase knowledge, awareness, and behavioral change in the following areas.
• The Cooperative Business Model
• Food Safety and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
• Farm Conservation Planning
Significant progress was made in achieving all the objectives and deliverables of the 2016-2017 training program. However, some activities are pending completion. Training has been completed on all the topic areas through locally conducted educational sessions, out of state trainings, and presentations by invited trainers. Additional training programs will be delivered on the Cooperative Business Model and Understanding Climate Change phenomenon to complete the existing professional development program.
The objectives outlined in the new PDP proposal are based upon three established areas of educational need identified in the comprehensive plan for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Firstly, optimum production levels and profitability continue to be hampered by the high cost of imported farm inputs and producer dependency on the public sector for routine needs such as land preparation, water delivery, etc. In response to this need training on the Cooperative Business Model concept is recommended to develop organizational capacity skills that will ultimately enable producers to pool their resources to reduce the cost of farm input importation and purchase their own equipment, thereby reducing their production cost and increasing farm profits.
Secondly, agricultural sustainability for the territory also entails expanded and increased market access for farmers. Perhaps the best opportunity for such market expansion is the newly commenced Farm to School Program of the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture which potentially provides a long term outlet for farm products and increased profits for producers. Such access will require increased farm productivity, coordinated production based on market demand, and increased knowledge regarding food safety requirements in some markets. In order to address the food safety concerns, training in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) protocol is suggested.
The final area of overall educational need to achieve a sustainable agricultural sector is continued knowledge concerning the impact of climate change and the application of appropriate strategies at the farm level. A productive and sustainable agricultural system will require producers to adapt mitigation methods through whole Farm Conservation Planning whereby trainees will increase their knowledge of developing site specific comprehensive farm plans to mitigate against climate change impacts (i.e. droughts and floods). This farm level planning will incorporate previously taught concepts, including crop rotation and the use of cover crops, conversation covers, and buffers crops.
Funding received will be used to publicize (through print and electronic media) the SARE Program in general and market the training and research events, fund inter-island and out of state training activities, as well as purchase and duplicate pertinent training materials.