Livestock provides us with a source of food that is easily accessible and ordinarily low-cost to produce, but the practicality of rearing livestock for farmers in Antigua and Barbuda is gradually becoming out of reach with every year that there is insufficient rain. Climate change is driving up temperatures and prolonging drought conditions in countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, which for over a decade has experienced severe drought, drying up the surface and groundwater catchments.
Since there is not enough moisture from the rains to support the production of feed needed to sustain these animals locally, the cost of operation increases. Livestock farmer, Sherwin Parker has known the ways of farming since he was a child. From his 30-plus years of experience, Parker says that more needs to be done for farmers in Antigua who are forced to reduce their stock numbers and endure higher operational costs.
“We are presently going through a prolonged drought, which hampers the animals’ growth and development a lot. During the rainy season, when we have a lot of grass, the animals are nice and round, but when the rain eases up, we have less food growth and less weight.”
Parker hasn’t had to truck in any food so far this year, but last year, he had to transport feed each day to the paddock where he keeps his cows and a few horses. “I’ve also had to reduce the number of animals in the paddock significantly because of a lack of food,” he stated.
In the absence of rainfall, there is a lack of water to replenish the pond on his land. He is compelled to travel a distance of two to five miles each day to obtain water and fill up the pond. “It was completely dry for almost a year and a half; I had to truck the water in. I normally bring in about five drums a day, every day,” he said. He said it is an additional cost for fuel and equipment that he uses to pump the water.
So, Parker was quite happy that his pond had filled after a heavy downpour two months ago. Unfortunately, that water has been rapidly evaporating because of the continued dry weather conditions and sporadic heat waves since 2023 began.
In April, the same month that local climatologist Dale Destin noted as the wettest April in a decade for the state, the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, which he heads, issued an excessive heat wave advisory over five days. Temperatures rose between 38 and 41 °C, or 100 and 106 °F. Temperatures will continue to increase between May and October, which has been pegged as the “hot season”. In addition, Destin forecasts that Antigua will experience a 74 percent chance of below or near-normal rainfall for 2023 and notes that it would be very unlikely that the twin island state will see a wetter-than-normal year.
Camara Smith owns a pig farm and has had his share of concerns with the heat. It is not only reducing the amount of natural feed that is available to his pigs, but it is so hot that even the water he trucks in each month evaporates from the storage tanks.
“On this eastern side, it hardly gets rain; when we get rain, it has to be an islandwide rain to get rain.”
When the weather gets really dry, it costs him $300 to truck water to his farm each month. The lack of water also agitates the animals and causes them to breach their pens and attack the other pigs. At his old farm, Smith reared 300 pigs and had access to water, but in this new area, he is able to house less than a dozen pigs. His decision to move his pen was prompted by praedial larceny, which many farmers in Antigua must contend with.
Nonetheless, he continues to invest in livestock farming, not because it is cheap, but because, as he said, “it’s costly, but it’s something that I like, and I enjoy it”.
A bag of pig feed can cost the farmer as much as $68 a day, depending on where it is purchased—that’s upwards of $400 each week.
At the height of the pandemic, Stanford Mings, the owner of S&J Farm, recalled that it was costly to bring water to his chicken farm. He said two shipments of water cost him over $500 at a time when eggs were not selling as quickly.
“I sell a lot of eggs to Jolly Beach, and Jolly Beach was in the first set; I mean, all the hotels closed around the same time,” he recalled. “Normally you can breakeven or make a profit, but now it’s taking up all of my resources,” he admitted then.
The fact is that countries in the Eastern Caribbean region like Antigua and Barbuda are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which can present itself in various forms, including drought and intensified weather systems.
These impacts are aided by countries that continue to burn fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels has been blamed for global warming as they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, which in turn trap heat in our atmosphere. They produce heat waves like those currently experienced in Antigua and Barbuda, which will continue to reduce air quality, worsen drought conditions, and stagnate food for livestock if the most powerful world leaders do not demand change. The mass emitters must grant small states access to resources and help local leaders devise policies that can save these animals and, by extension, the livelihoods of thousands of people as well as the country’s economy.
This story was originally published by Wadadli Unplugged, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.