Dotted with neat rows of green-fringed pineapple crowns, the village of Philipusdorp is one of a number of rural areas across Suriname undergoing an agricultural transformation with the support of United Nations partner agencies.
In the last few months, aerial landscape images have captured square and round sandy pits dug by rural and indigenous farmer communities. They have been taking part in the first-ever soil tests carried out along the country’s small but vibrant pineapple belt.
“Pineapple is a fruit that the Indigenous people produce for centuries for their own consumption,” notes Gladys Kabelefodi, who has been Captain of Philipusdorp in the country’s Para district for the last ten years. “The knowledge the farmers got from their ancestors. Currently you have farmers that produce for the local market.”
The results taken from samples of the topsoil and bottom soil up to 20-40 cm deep are allowing farmers to make the link between understanding the soil’s fertility and the potential for boosting organic pineapple production in the country.
A project under the global Agrifood Systems Transformation Accelerator (ASTA) programme co-led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), is helping Suriname move from being a marginal pineapple producer, using traditional methods, to adopting a competitive business model.
The goal is to increase production ten-fold to 20,000 tonnes a year by 2030 for domestic and international markets thanks to an upgrading of Suriname’s pineapple value chain.
The project run by FAO, UNIDO, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and with USD 2 million in financing from the UN Joint SDG Fund, is bringing on board not only producers, but also processors, traders, input providers, government ministries, research institutes and financial institutions.
In turn, at least USD 10 million a year will be generated from increased fruit and pineapple products and 1,000 new jobs created that will positively impact rural livelihoods. The jobs will span production and processing to trading, inputs supply and support services delivery, with women and young people standing to benefit the most.
Growing investments in modern processing to create higher value-added products will lead to Suriname expanding its exports of both fresh and processed organic pineapples. Plus, closer management of the soil quality will lead to stronger environmental protection in the area.
Now, as Kabelefodi stresses, “farmers are aware that the pineapple can be a source of income. The soil analysis done by the project is important. So, they can know what the conditions are of their soil and which application is needed to improve the soil fertility to produce better plants and fruits for the local and export market.”
Ultimately, the sustainability of organic production all begins with the right soil.
Thanks to the test results, farmers in the project districts know the chemical, biological and physical capacity of the soil, currently showing poor soil fertility with low levels of essential nutrients. This is going to help producers follow tailored guidance on how best to prepare the soil, apply organic fertilizer, use microorganisms and adopt soil conservation practices.
International pineapple expert and agronomist, Freddy Gamboa Quiros, who has been supervising the soil tests explains “the sandy soils in Suriname have favourable conditions for agricultural development [but] we must work to improve the nutritional quality, increase the organic matter content, and always keep the soil covered with cover crops.”
The ambition – which matches all learning under ASTA’s global programme – is to build capacity at the country level so that vital tools – starting here with soil analysis – become part of the national system. And to build up agronomist and laboratory capabilities at the country level.
As of last month, the extensive soil analysis results are being put into practice in new field trials underway in selected pineapple farms in Suriname’s Para and Marowijne districts.
August Tawjoeram’s farm in Redi-Doti and Desi Tempo’s farm in Moengotapoe are two of those that will see first-hand just how new management practices for organic pineapple cultivation will impact on three plant varieties.
Producers district-wide are now watching the trials closely to see the progress in how the pineapple plants develop, standing ready to apply these new practices in their own plots.
“We are developing a crop management plan with the principles developed in other countries but adapted to local conditions” confirms Gamboa Quiros who is rolling out the hands-on training for producers with ASTA project coordinator, Swami Girdhari.
The training features step-by-step videos of topics including soil fertility management, seed production and mountain microorganisms, alongside other practical tools and methods.
As Gamboa Quiros adds, “we are pleased with the participation of the entire community in all the activities to help us implement and adjust the organic pineapple production model.”
Next, trial results will help to develop the upgraded business model and a best practices growers’ manual and to fine-tune agronomic updates sent via the project’s digital platform.
Soils are at the foundation of agrifood systems that add up to a USD 5 trillion-strong food and agribusiness industry worldwide, but which can break down under pressure from a wide range of shocks and stresses.
The project solutions embedding know-how and capacity for Suriname’s producers to treat soils – in ways not thought of before – are part of a wider transformation of the country’s agrifood system and are building resilience.
Other system-based solutions underway include an innovation hub that will provide the latest technical assistance and a guarantee facility to ease access to credit and de-risk investments into the pineapple value chain. And, now the approach has the potential to be scaled up to more value chains in the country and across the region.
When it comes to promoting healthy food and a better environment – as highlighted by World Soil Day this 5 December – and, as seen in the efforts that are paying off to grow Suriname’s pineapple production, it starts by digging deep into, and taking care of, the soil.
Aimée Kourgansky, FAO Value Chain Development Consultant
Aimee.Kourgansky [at] FAO.org
Rana Fakhoury, Programme Specialist, ASTA, Food Security and Food Systems Unit
UNIDO, r.fakhoury [at] unido.org ()