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By Kenton X. Chance
“It was what opened my eyes the most,” said Stina Herberg, director of Richmond Vale, recalling Hurricane Tomas, which in 2010 hit the Windward Islands and passed through the north of San Vicente, where the academy is located.
“It was very shocking and terrifying to hear those huge trees fall (…) it opened my eyes": Stina Herberg.
In the 1980s, an institution for troubled young Danes was created in Richmond Vale in the hope that their stay there would allow them to see the world from another perspective and serve as a vocational school for young Vincentians.
For many reasons, the idea did not prosper, the school closed and the farm was created in that agricultural district in the northwestern corner of San Vicente.
In 2000, the first attempts were made to relaunch the academy, which has been in full operation since 2007. The non-profit organization had focused primarily on alleviating poverty, with an emphasis on the African continent.
Referring to Tomas, Herberg recalled: "We were very concerned, of course, but that was my first real encounter with climate change."
On October 30, 2010, the hurricane took away several roofs, and in addition to the great damage caused to private homes and public infrastructure, it destroyed 90 percent of the banana crops, then very important for the national economy.
At the academy, Herberg, staff and students listened as the tropical cyclone destroyed huge trees that were several decades old. "It was very shocking and terrifying to hear the fall of those huge trees, they looked like stopped matches that were falling," he said.
The banana plantation, which took three years of work to achieve the necessary standards to be able to export to England, was also destroyed.
"Three years of work were destroyed in seven hours," Herberg stressed, "but for other farmers, it was a lifetime of work," he said.
“That led us to ask a lot of questions. Yes, there have always been hurricanes, but why are they more frequent? So we began to investigate more about climate change, pollution and lived experiences that opened our eyes, "he added.
The research led to the 2012-2021 Saint Vincent Conference on Climate Compatibility, which aims to make Saint Vincent and the Grenadines “climate compatible,” which basically refers to adaptation measures.
The program brings together local students, but also from Europe, North and South America, as well as other parts of the Caribbean and Asia for a period of one, three or six months, during which they learn about global warming, its causes and their consequences.
The program offers first-hand knowledge as students visit neighboring communities like Fitz Hughes or the city of Chateaubelair to observe the impact that severe weather events have on housing, public infrastructure, and the physical environment.
The academy developed its own models and used its own farm to test ways in which it is possible to abandon fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming.
Richmond Vale installed a biogas plant that proves that 1.5 kilograms of kitchen waste with 50 liters of water can produce fuel for five hours of energy a day in this country where liquefied petroleum gas is the main fuel for Cook.
"We can't build hydroelectric plants, we can't build geothermal plants," Herberg observed. “Governments have a variety of plans and we have to see what we can do. Here we promote solar energy and also biogas ”, he remarked, adding that the academy already has the necessary funds to build five biogas plants in the west of San Vicente.
It is a mitigation measure “because it is a renewable gas and you can produce it yourself. You don't need to transport it from China, Venezuela or the United States or any other place, ”he explained.
In addition, the production of biogas leaves a sludge that serves as fertilizer.
“The important thing is that people know that there are alternatives. I don't think everyone can turn to biogas. But it is important that we open up and see that there are options, ”Herberg stressed.
This island almost always has potable water availability, but the Grenadines have water problems, because this archipelago has no rivers or municipal services.
And even in San Vicente with its rivers, streams and ravines, the dry season, from December to May, can be especially difficult for farmers, as only seven percent of them have irrigation systems.
The academy created a system to collect rainwater to wash, bathe and use in the toilet. And the liquid that remains is stored in tanks and used for irrigation. The receptacle has fish to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
Herberg explained the relationship between organic agriculture and climate change because the latter will cause Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to increase the periods without rain, and when it does rain, these will be stronger and for shorter periods.
Little by little, the academy abandoned chemical fertilizers, because "they break the structure of the soil, which becomes sandy and dries, and then when it rains, and when it rains a lot, the water carries the soil away," Herberg explained, adding that this generates floods and landslides.
Most of the farmers are still dedicated to monoculture and use chemical fertilizers and “it is very dangerous for the future. If you see it from the general point of view of biodiversity, this is what allows the temperature to remain stable ”, he specified.
On the other hand, Herberg referred to the problem of deforestation.
“We need trees that give us shade, shelter and protect us from heavy rains, so agriculture has to change so that we are ready to cope with climate change. We have to change our agricultural practices. The monoculture has no future ”, he assured.
One of the most important debates in climate change adaptation is to what extent successful measures can be multiplied and scaled up.
"I am optimistic and I believe that in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as it is a small country, it will be easy to achieve it," he projected.
“There is a consensus that we need to be more sustainable, go organic and focus on renewable energy. And I think it will happen: we are going to move to geothermal energy, we will improve our hydroelectric plants and more people will adopt the solar alternative, "Herberg speculated.
"Thus we will be the first country in the Caribbean where almost everything will work with renewable energy within a reasonable period, perhaps 10 years," he predicted.
"Costa Rica is at the forefront in the region, but Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a good example in the 15-member Caribbean Community of what can be done to adapt and mitigate climate change," he said.
"We are not yet at the forefront of organic farming, but there are some great examples," Herberg said.
Translated by Verónica Firme