Title: Interview with a Farmer
Author: Bertrand Bhikarry
Concept: A conversation on the recent and unprecedented spate of bushfires in the country and
its implications for agriculture, tourism and the Tobago economy.
keywords: (tobago drought, meteorological drought, agricultural drought, hydrological drought,
socioeconomic drought )
Scene (a burnt-out field in the Orange Hill District )
TV: (asks name)
BB: My name is Bertrand Bhikarry, I'm a farmer with a strong sense of environmental
TV: We accept that you are a farmer, but then you use the term environmentalist. How
long have you been an environmentalist? I know you are a member of the local NGO
BB: From my childhood growing up in the south of Trinidad, and I became committed to
taking care of the space in which I occupy after spending a year in my early teens here in
Tobago. Even then I was able to see the difference in a green lifestyle. Tobago drove it
home to me then.
The separation of the terms farmer and environmentalist is intentional. For a long time
now the designations were mutually exclusive.
TV: Why are there so much bushfires this year? Do you know?
BB: Bushfires are a sign of the times. Meteorologists tell us it's the El Nino effect this time
around which is drying out the region, and that we can expect up to four more years of
this sort of dryness. I tend to believe them
TV: You are saying the bushfires are a part of the El Nino effect?
BB: Of course not. I'm saying El Nino is drying the region. I should say the bushfires are
started almost always by a human, but it would be just my opinion.
TV: We hear talk the occasional fire is good for the forest. So will Tobago benefit from the
BB: There is no way a delicate environment like Tobago will survive the four years of
dryness which is expected, nor will it rebound. The nature of the soil will change, so will
the methods farmers will need to use to continue producing food.
TV: Four Years? It's almost like there's a drought coming. Judging by the manner in which
BB: The drought is here. Pay attention. WASA has officially pronounced it so. But drought is
a big topic. Maybe you should contact the people at Environment Tobago for some
more on the subject. I see they've started publishing material on it on their website.
TV: We came to look at the damage the bushfires are doing, have done. What can you tell
BB: The biggest loss is to the Tobago biodiversity - the wildlife, all of it, bugs, butterflies,
stuff we never see but which helps balance our ecosystem. Orange Hill; in fact it's really
the Courland Watershed is at risk . Something which place people at risk. Tobago people
TV: If the fires are so prevalent this year, surely next year there will be less to burn?
BB: True. The forest turns to shrubbery, and then the shrubbery still dries out and will still
burn. That is when the Tobago food basket we always hear of will go empty.
TV: As an environmentalist, do you have ideas for the protection of the land?
BB: Yes. The people's needs are the biggest problem. It's something which comes with a
growing population. However they need to learn how to balance their needs with what
the land (or sea) can deliver. Personally I fail to see the provisioning of that balance in
any stated plan. The word 'vaps' comes to mind.
TV: And you have specific recommendations toward such plans?
BB: Not really, but it would hinge on Tobago finding its way, and setting priorities for its
SPACE first. There is a feeling the needs of the population comes first - it may, but many
more AFTER us are at risk if the needs are not catered to within the confines of space.
Tobago is SMALL. There is no sense in planning a cow farm for two hundred head of
cattle just because you need a lot of milk .
TV: We seem to be straying from bushfires.
BB: I wouldn't worry about bushfires in the lower part of Tobago too much. It's pretty
apparent that soon the only thing left in Tobago South to burn will be houses. Have you
noticed the rate of development? I hope it all part of the development for Tobago.
Maybe we should focus on strengthening the laws that protect the rainforest on the
Main Ridge -leave this to burn.
TV: Where do you see your future as an agriculturist. The future of other farmers?
BB: Not good. I really think we should do the regional thing. Plant cassava in Guyana where
the land space is adequate and suitable. Exchange, Educate the Guyanese kids in our
schools, sort of a Nature University. Just look at Grenada. A few years ago, post-
hurricane, they were getting hand-me-downs from us, and now in that short time they
have more airlift than we do. And they don 't boast of an Energy Sector nor Gas
TV: Tell me some more on that regional concept.
BB: The only way for Small Island States to survive is to get working together. Create a
larger voice, a larger mass for the developed world to contend with. We looked on
with almost no interest when Dominica lost their banana business. we individually trade
our fish stocks to the Japanese for little buildings and who knows what else.
TV: So you think that the pressure on the land need to be spread across the Caribbean?
BB: I couldn't have said that better myself.
TV: What do you predict for Tobago in the next four years of drought?
BB: A Tobago as dry as Margarita, Antigua and the Canary Islands. But they kept their
tourism alive somehow. We seem to be thinking toward industrialisation. I think the
drought is here to stay for a while, even if there is water that we will see.
You know what they say 'water water everywhere and not a drop to drink'