Solar-powered bird wailers to help Tobago farmers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Duane Dove, owner of Tobago Cocoa Estate which has received a solar-powered
bird wailer to ward off pests. –

After two years of discussions and planning, two solar-powered bird-squawker sound systems have been set up in Tobago to help farmers reduce crop losses caused by cocricos and parrots.

The systems were launched on March 12 by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) at the Goodwood Secondary School.

CARDI received an Extraordinary Projects Impacting Communities (EPIC) grant of $100,000 from the Digicel Foundation for the project.

THA Secretary of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development Nathisha Charles-Pantin, during her feature address at the farmer sensitisation and demonstration session, said when she and the chief secretary first met the CARDI team in January 2022, they were responding to urgent calls for help from the cocoa sector.

“They were facing significant losses due to persistent pest issues, which translates not only into financial losses but also the precious time spent chasing pests instead of focusing on productive activities. These challenges not only affected individual farmers but also had a ripple effect on the entire cocoa industry in Tobago.”

Tobago cocoa, she said, is renowned for its quality, and any threat to its production affects not just farmers’ livelihoods but also the reputation and sustainability of the growing cocoa industry on the island.

“From those initial stakeholder meetings, where we learnt firsthand of the challenges our farmers were facing, to today, where we stand on the brink of implementing real solutions – it has been quite a journey. And while the road may have felt long at times, I am incredibly proud of how far we’ve come together.”

She said CARDI deserves appreciation for its pivotal role as the initiating agency for the project.

“It was…their unwavering efforts that secured grant funding for the bird wailers, enabling us to address the pressing issue of crop losses caused by pets.”

She said four entities have united on behalf of the farmers, recognising their essential role in sustaining communities.

The solar-powered bird wailer deterrent system installed by CARDI to protect Tobago farms. – Photo courtesy CARDI

CARDI’s executive director Ansari Hosein recalled the 2022 meeting, saying in response, a project proposal was submitted, and the project approved, with implementation beginning in November 2023.

“These systems were then programmed with alarm and distress calls against the cocricos and parrots. Before we installed it in January, the institute conducted training for 20 staff members from the division at Lure estate.”

He said the training covered programming the system and maintaining the equipment.

“We also worked with the department to design the survey instruments so that we could help determine the impact of these systems.” He said the first system was set up in January at the Tobago Cocoa Estate, and the second has been roving across different farming districts.

But the machines, he said, are not a silver bullet to solve the “frustrating problem you have with these birds.

“The reality is that these birds are highly adaptable, and they could likely modify the behaviours to suit the environment. Therefore, our job is to make that environment a little bit uncomfortable to them.

“We know that you, the farmers, have been trying control strategies. What we need to do is to incorporate all these different solutions into one approach – an integrated approach to help control this bird pest.”

Digicel Foundation head of operations Cindyann Currency said when EPIC was launched in 2015, a few things were known, but nine years later, EPIC has mushroomed into one of the flagship programmes.

She said most of the projects for 2024 have a focus on agriculture, which speaks volumes to what the communities are saying.

“It says that food security is a top priority in communities and we’re seeing that civil-society organisations are addressing the real causes of many of their social ills. It’s so great to be a collaborator where this is concerned.”