Geography, climate and population
The twin island state of Antigua and Barbuda is situated in the northeastern part of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. The islands are located between 17°00’ and 17°35’N latitude and between 61°40’ and 61°55’W longitude. Total land area is 440 km2, Antigua being the larger island with an area of 280 km2 and Barbuda having an area of 160 km2. Approximately 31 percent of the total land area (13 810 ha) is considered cultivable. In 2012, the total physical cultivated area was estimated at 5 000 ha, of which 4 000 ha were temporary crops and 1 000 ha were permanent crops (Table 1). Permanent meadows and pasture occupied 4 000 ha, bringing the agricultural land area to 9 000 ha. Antigua and Barbuda is politically divided into six parishes (Saint George, Saint John’s, Saint Mary, Saint Paul, Saint Peter and Saint Philip) and two dependencies (Barbuda and Redonda).
There are three main agro-ecological zones in Antigua: (i) the North-Eastern Limestone Formation, (ii) the Central Plains, which is mixed volcanic and sedimentary/mudstone together with alluvial area, and (iii) the Volcanic Region. The highest peak in Antigua is Boggy Park (403 m). Barbuda by contrast is coralline and flat. Its highest peak, Highlands, is only 38 m. above sea level.
Antigua and Barbuda both experience a tropical maritime climate with little variation in daily or seasonal temperatures. Average monthly minimum temperatures range from 22°C in February to 25°C in August, while monthly maximum temperatures range from 28°C in February to 31°C in September. Somewhat greater diurnal variation is observed in some inland areas (UNCCD, 2005).
Average annual precipitation of the country is 1 030 mm, ranging from 667 mm to 1 708 mm. The driest period of the year is from January to April, while the wet season is from September to November. These months coincide with the period of active tropical waves and tropical storms.
Droughts occur every five to ten years. When several low-rainfall years occur consecutively, the country faces critical water shortages. Conversely, depending on the major climatic cycles associated with El Nino/La Nina, quite wet years are also possible.
In 2013, the total population was about 90 000 inhabitants, of which around 98 percent in Antigua and 2 percent in Barbuda. Of the total population of both islands 70 percent is rural (Table 1). Population density is 205 inhabitants/km2. The average annual population growth rate in the 2003-2013 period is 1.1 percent.
In 2012, 98 percent of the total population had access to improved water sources (both in urban and rural areas) and 91 percent of the total population had access to improved sanitation (also both in urban and rural areas).
Economy, agriculture and food security
In 2013, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$ 1 230 million and agriculture accounted for only 2 percent of GDP compared to 40 percent prior to the 1960s and the subsequent collapse of the sugar industry. The service industry/tourism is now the major foreign exchange earner, contributing 81 percent of GDP. Nevertheless, despite its small contribution to GDP, the agricultural sector still is one of the largest employers. In 2013, total population economically active in agriculture is estimated at 8 000 inhabitants (21 percent of economically active population), of which 25 percent is female and 75 percent is male.
Sugar is still cultivated, and other vegetable and fruit crops are grown on small farms, but Sea Island cotton is the only profitable export crop. The agricultural sector has been constrained by high labour costs, small size of local market, lack of marketing structures and infrastructure, competition from imported foodstuffs, and inadequate water supplies for irrigation as well as a regular succession of severe droughts and destructive hurricanes, and limited land tenure rights.
Agriculture is dominated by livestock production with goats being the dominant specie. More than 75 percent of livestock production of Antigua is carried out in the Central Plains and the North-Eastern Limestone Formation. Barbuda is devoted entirely to livestock production with the exception of a few agricultural stations and fenced farming areas.
Surface water resources, groundwater resources and non-conventional sources of water
The total average rainfall for both islands is estimated at 453 million m3/year and renewable water resources are estimated at about 52 million m3/year (Table 2). There are no perennial rivers in the country, only intermittent rivers where water flows during part of the year, which then can also be stored in ponds and reservoirs. At present the country’s agricultural and municipal (domestic and commercial) water demands are being met by four desalination plants, two surface water treatment plants, numerous small ponds and five well fields.
In Antigua, with a population of about 88 000 people, there are approximately 43 active wells with major well fields located in the Bendals Valley, Bolands and Collins areas. The island has three Reverse Osmosis (RO) desalination plants/systems, the Sembcorp Plant (5.1 million m3/year), the Camp Blizzard Plant (1.0 million m3/year) and the Ffryes Beach Plant (1.0 million m3/year), with a total desalination capacity of approximately 7.1 million m3/year. The Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) tries to rely on surface water and groundwater as much as possible given the inexpensive nature of its production. As a drought prone island, relying on surface water and groundwater often becomes difficult, this creates the need for reverse osmosis. Antigua has two water treatment plants with a total volume of 3.7 million m3, of which Delapps plant accounts for 2.5 million m3 and Bendals plant accounts for 1.2 million m3 (APUA, 2012).
In Barbuda, with a population of less than 2 000 people, most of the water supplied to the population comes from shallow wells. In 2005, the water obtained from wells in the Palmetto Point area was potable but other wells around the island have been found to be saline in content. APUA then installed a Reverse Osmosis (RO) Plant in Barbuda which produces approximately 113.6 m3/day or 0.041 million m3/year to meet the needs of the residents of Barbuda.
Harvesting of rainwater by households contributes an important source of safe drinking water provided the collection and storage system is kept in a hygienically good condition. By law, all new houses are supposed to be equipped with rainwater collection and storage systems. The average size of this storage is 19 m3 and the number of households is approximately 20 000.
Antigua has about 18 medium to small reservoirs and about 550 ponds and earth dams. The total combined capacity of all reservoirs, ponds and mini-dams is approximately 6 million m3 in 2013.
Reservoirs for agricultural purposes have a total capacity of 1 016 000 m3. The main ones are at Bethesda (537 000 m3), ASF Dams (116 000 m3), Langfords (110 000 m3), Gunthorpes (93 000 m3), Red hill (46 000 m3) and Bendals (23 000 m3).
Reservoirs for municipal purposes have a total capacity of 4 976 480 m3. The main ones are at Potworks (4 142 000 m3), Collins (342 000 m3), Dunnings (136 040 m3), Hamilton (104 120 m3), Body Pond (101 460 m3). Collins is not used directly – a number of wells were drilled around it and it provides groundwater recharge for them. Body Pond was destroyed by Hurricane Louis in 1995 and the government is seeking funds to have it rebuilt.
The Fig Tree and Wallings dams are not used by the Water Business Unit. Both provide recreational and nature trail ambiance to persons who visit the area.
It is estimated that there are over 550 ponds, each with capacity less than 1 000 m3. The small ponds are used primarily for agriculture.
Most of the ponds and dams are privately owned and are not under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, and Housing and the Environment (MALHE) or APUA.
During drier months irrigation is restricted to a very limited area due to shortfall in surface water and groundwater yields, and most surface water storage is diverted to municipal supply. Barbuda’s topography and geology are not well suited to dam construction.
Annual water withdrawal in 1990 was about 5 million m3, of which the municipal sector accounted for 60 percent and agriculture and industry accounted for 20 percent each.
In 2005, annual water withdrawal was about 8.4 million m3, of which the municipal sector accounted for 5.3 million m3 or 63 percent, the industrial sector accounted for 1.8 million m3 or 21 percent and the agricultural sector accounted for 1.3 million m3 or 16 percent.
In 2012, water withdrawal is estimated at 11.5 million m3, of which the municipal sector accounted for 7.2 million m3 or 63 percent, the industrial sector accounted for 2.5 million m3 or 22 percent and the agricultural sector accounted for 1.8 million m3 or 15 percent (Figure 1 and Table 3).
The sources of water in Antigua are as follows (Figure 2):
Barbuda produces approximately 0.041 million m3/year of desalination water to meet the needs of the residents of Barbuda.
Irrigation and drainage
Evolution of irrigation development
In 2014, 384.5 ha are equipped for irrigation and actually irrigated in Antigua and Barbuda. Localized irrigation is the only technology used (Table 4).
Surface supplies are the main source of irrigation water for agriculture, with occasional use of groundwater when municipal demands allow (Figure 3).
Government-owned irrigation schemes in Antigua are the Sanderson, Bethesda and Potworks irrigation projects. The Sanderson scheme is the smallest with a size of 8 ha, serving 10 households. The second largest scheme is at Bethesda, serving 10 households. The Potworks scheme is the largest, extending some 50 ha, serving 15 households. All three irrigation schemes service farms which are each 1 ha or less in size.
Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society
In 2014, of a total harvested irrigated crop area of 384.5 ha, 74 percent consisted of vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, water melon and cabbage, and 26 percent consisted of fruits (Table 4 and Figure 4).
Women and irrigation
Women have limited access to and control over the resources of production in Antigua and Barbuda that makes them more vulnerable to poverty. They utilize farming to fulfil the basic needs of their families. While the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture does not maintain sex-disaggregated data on land ownership, it is understood that women in the country participate more extensively in agricultural production. However, the actual participation of women in farming and agriculture may be under-estimated (CDB, 2014).
Status and evolution of drainage systems
In 1997, the drained surface area was about 808 ha and was limited to on-farm drains constructed to dispose of excess rainfall and downhill runoff (Table 4).
Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture
All water resources of Antigua and Barbuda are currently vested in the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA). APUA operates a network of distribution pipes throughout the country to supply treated water to both domestic and commercial sectors. Agriculture is considered to be a commercial activity and irrigation generally does not enjoy any special preference in water allocation.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, and Housing and the Environment (MALHE), former Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries and Housing (MALFH), is responsible for technical assistance to farmers on irrigation, drainage, soil and water conservation.
The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) provides technical assistance and training in soil and water conservation to the MALHE and farmers in collaboration with the Extension Division and under the Natural Resources Management Programme.
Private sector companies such as hotels and recreation facilities (golf courses) employ local and expatriate personnel for irrigation operation and maintenance.
The current tenure system deters farmers from investing in needed infrastructure to ensure continuous water supplies or marketing systems. Government land policies have helped to keep farms small, with insecure land tenure and plots separated from the farmer’s home. Most of the cultivated land is under government control following the demise of the sugar industry, and farmers typically rent land from the government, usually for periods of up to five years, with little security of tenure. This discourages long-term investments in soil and water conservation techniques needed to expand the sector and enhance productivity. Many smaller holdings suffer from limited groundwater availability, droughts and insect pests, or unfertile depleted soils.
The APUA has a long-term water development plan with emphasis on desalinization of seawater to eliminate the risk of drought and inadequate surface storage and groundwater facilities.
There is no charge for the use of irrigation water obtained from dams or ponds. Where irrigation water is obtained from the municipal water supply, the user is charged.
Policies and legislation
There are 46 separate pieces of legislation related to water supply management, directly as land use, water and waste management laws or indirectly as protected areas, forestry and agriculture laws. Many of these laws, such as the Watercourses and Waterworks Ordinances of 1945, last amended in 1953, need to be updated (OAS, 2005).
Environment and health
Centuries of unsustainable agricultural practices, particularly those related to the sugar industry, have reduced the fertility of the limited agricultural land and primed soil erosion trends. Overall, production is good for a country with poor soil quality, low annual rainfall in certain areas and very limited access to international markets. However, pollution from inorganic fertilizers and pesticides occurs due to high levels of application and there is no adequate monitoring of impacts. Integrated pest management is a national government policy, but inadequate funding has constrained implementation.
Vegetative cover is also affected by the traditional use of fires to clear and prepare land. The issue of uncontrolled fires is compounded by the invasive Lemon Grass species that were introduced in the 1960s to control soil erosion, but it has spread over vast tracts of land in several of the main catchment areas and is now a major factor contributing to soil erosion.
Livestock production is characterized by unsustainable practices. Uncontrolled grazing of livestock (sheep, goats, donkeys and cattle) affects vegetative cover. This is widely perceived as one of the country's leading environmental problems.
Prospects for agricultural water management
Climate change could bring a decrease in water availability and a greater vulnerability to natural hazards with the corresponding problems for the water resource management (OAS, 2005).
Main sources of information
APUA. 2012. Water provision in Antigua. Antigua Public Utilities Authority.
APUA. 2013. APUA - Water pepartment, dollars-gallons-customers. Water Department. Water Manager’s office – Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA).
APUA. 2013. Monthly source production. Water Manager’s office – Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA).
Caribbean Water Treatment Ltd. 2009. Development of a wastewater management strategy for St. John’s with specific focus on the north west coast tourism zone. SIRMM and GEF/IWCAM Project. Prepared By: Caribbean Water Treatment Ltd. October 30, 2009.
CDB. 2014. Country Gender Assessment Antigua and Barbuda (Vol. 1). Caribbean Development Bank.
OAS. 2005. Antigua and Barbuda: Main water issues. Organization of American States.
The Technical Advisory Committee for the Environment Division, Ministry of Public Works and Environment. 2005. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Draft national action plan for Antigua & Barbuda. April, 2005.
UNCCD. 2005. Draft national action plan for Antigua and Barbuda. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
UNDP and GoAB. 2014. Demonstrating the development and implementation of a sustainable island resource management mechanism in a small island developing state. PIMS 1899 ATLAS Project ID: 00053747. Government of Antigua and Barbuda and United Nations Development Programme.