Those who enjoy authentic Indian food might have recently noticed a lack of spice in some of their favorite dishes. A staple of Indian cuisine, Capsicum annuum, more commonly known as the green chili pepper, has all but disappeared from U.S. supermarkets following a March ban on produce imports from the Dominican Republic. The DR has recently been infested by Mediterranean fruit flies — a ravenous pest that has destroyed billions of dollars in agricultural products around the world. The impact on the DR's agriculture has been devastating and immediate. Local markets are now flooded with product, and prices have crashed well below profitable levels.
Enter Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Brian Upchurch, a private farm owner from North Carolina with expertise in greenhouse management. At the end of May, Mr. Upchurch traveled to assess and evaluate current greenhouse operations and practices of the Jarabacoa Cluster of vegetable farmers in Jarabacoa, La Vega, in the DR. After completing farm inspections and making recommendations, he gave presentations to farmers and agricultural technicians on an additional pest, the thrip insect, which was also encountered during every farm visit. He covered the basics of the thrip life cycle, damage to vegetable crops, and methods of control with emphasis on cost, effectiveness, worker safety, and environmental concerns. Mr. Upchurch also introduced the 4 different methods of plant propagation, and gave a more detailed presentation of ‘rooting plant cuttings’ as the primary method for commercial nurseries’ propagation in the United States and Europe.
In addition, it was important that Mr. Upchurch paid particular attention to the conservation of natural resources, including soil and water management, and the sustainability of these resources. Like all farmers around the world, those in the Dominican Republic face uncertainty in the future. Changing climate, financial challenges, and political and social issues have affected and will continue to affect resources and markets available to these farmers. The usual high demand for green peppers and tomatoes led to poor crop rotation because there was no demand for alternate crops. This contributes to disease and insect pressure.
While there are real and significant challenges facing the Jarabacoa Cluster, there are also opportunities. Mr. Upchurch recommended that more pressure be applied to the USDA and the DR equivalent to eradicate the pest issues while they are in early stages. While curry lovers may miss their spices, the Dominican farmers are missing their export market even more. There are a few solutions being considered- one includes CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) type programs in urban areas. Farms could offer weekly deliveries to restaurants and retail consumers. Partnering with other producers such as fruit, flower, beef, pork, or chicken producers would provide more variety and options. This concept has become very successful in the United States, even in smaller towns and surrounding communities.
Mr. Upchurch described the Jarabacoa Cluster as “a core group of growers that understand the needs, strengths, and challenges of the Cluster. They also seem willing to provide time and effort into growing the organization.” While they work to adapt to their present problems, Famer-to-Farmer volunteers like Brian Upchurch will continue to assist their counterparts to come up with solutions together.