A decade ago, Gaius Eudoxie was making his way from Trinidad and Tobago to St. John for the Caribbean Food Crops Society’s annual conference, where he hoped to learn more about regional farming trends and useful technology that he could bring back to his homeland. Now 10 years later, Eudoxie has returned to the territory in hopes of futhering that same dialogue and networking with “the best regional cross section of agricultural experts” in the industry.
A lecturer at the University of the West Indies at Saint Augustine, Eudoxie said the CFCS conference – held this year at the Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas for its 50 anniversary – is one of the most important meeting places for agronomists like him. He’s only missed one event in the past decade and, since then, has been able to gather information on everything ranging from water management to proper soil cultivation, which he said has been useful in Trindad where the earth is “easily degraded.”
“This event merges not only research, which is presented by university academics, students and scientists, but hands-on developmental work as well, so we have a lot of great agricultural minds sharing information,” Eudoxie said Wednesday.
“It is important for us to be here because – in addition to helping us, as farmers, expand our portfolios – we are listening to speakers from different agencies, such as agricultural departments and ministries that are doing the on-the-ground communications with farmers and are seeing what they need and what they can actually use.”
Expanding the conference from a mostly academic arena, where professors and graduate students share their work and lead discussions, to a networking opportunity for local farmers has been a goal of the Caribbean Food Crops Society for years, according to the organization’s current president, Kwame Garcia Sr.
Speaking Wednesday, Garcia said the organization has this year included a number of workshops for farmers and will also be giving participants a chance on Friday to engage in a panel discussion that will look at the challenges of maintaining the territory’s agricultural industry.
“What is great about this confererence is that it really focuses on tropical farming,” Garcia said, adding that there are also producers here – “buyers, people that sell agricultural products, so for local farmers living on an island where they don’t really get a chance to meet people outside, we hope that they can find a partner that could be a supplier for their products, a buyer for their produce and someone they can market with because, ultimately, we want them to expand their farm business.”
Garcia, also the director of the University of the Virgin Islands’ Corporate Extension Service, added that this year’s conference is special in that the Caribbean Food Crops Society was started on St. Croix 50 years ago and has now come full circle by bringing the event back to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Interestingly, when we started, St. Croix was a much more agricultural place, but since then, we have seen the industry move from crops like bananas and sugar cane into a more diversified industry,” Garcia said. “This organization has had to be at the forefront of leading the discussion on those changes, and now that we have come full circle, it reminds us that agriculture still is as important as it ever was.”
“Even though we’re into tourism and other industries, one thing is for certain: we all have to eat, and we have to be concerned with what we’re growing, how we’re growing it and what the challenges are that are affecting us.”
The conference started Monday and continues through the week. Local farmers have been invited to participate in workshops and panel discussions that focus on everything from local tax benefits for farmers to procedures for importing and exporting produce and plants.
Students from across the Caribbean and U.S. also participated in an oral competition that looked at, among other things, the evolution of certain beans, the molecular characterization of phytoplasma in Puerto Rican plants and the genetic makeup of bacteria causing potato wilting in Costa Rica.