INMED Caribbean brings the future of farming to Jamaica

Tanesha Wallace dreamed of starting her own commercial agri-business one day.

For the past few years, she had been struggling to help support her widowed mother and younger siblings in Montego Bay, St James, and saw aquaponics as a means to improve her family’s livelihood and food security.

The life-long gardener and nature enthusiast watched dozens of YouTube videos and experimented with a home system, but admitted that it was not as easy as it looked.

So, imagine her delight when Wallace learned of a new programme by INMED Partnerships for Children to help smallholder farmers, women, and youth launch aquaponics enterprises in Jamaica.

Aquaponics is an innovative food production technique that combines aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (soil-less crop production in water) in a closed symbiotic system. Advantages of aquaponics include crop production at least five to 10 times greater than traditionally farmed plots of equivalent size, 85-90 per cent less water consumption than traditional farming, low energy consumption, year-round crop production, and flood and drought resilience.

INMED’s system also requires no pesticides or fertilisers, is not affected by poor soil conditions and can be easily scaled to fit any space in rural and urban environments.

INMED has been working to improve the health, education, safety and opportunities for Jamaica’s most vulnerable citizens through adaptive agriculture, school gardening, climate change adaptation, nutrition education, positive youth development and teacher training programmes since 2002.

Its latest programme, called Increasing Access to Climate-Smart Agriculture (IACA), was launched officially last September in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank/Multilateral Investment Fund, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Rural Agriculture Development Authority (RADA), the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), and the ministries of Economic Growth and Job Creation and Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.

Facilitated by Kingston-based INMED Caribbean, IACA is unique in that it incorporates all segments of the value chain to ensure sustainability — providing technical and business training, access to affordable financing and links to ready markets for high-quality aquaponic fish and produce. With ongoing local extension support from INMED-trained RADA agents, this programme can strengthen Jamaica’s agricultural economy, increase food security, foster climate change resilience and improve public health.

“Small and medium-scale farmers in Jamaica are among the most vulnerable to the current and future effects of climate change, because they lack the technology, knowledge and financing to implement adaptive measures,” notes Paul Barrett, INMED Caribbean technical specialist for aquaponics.

In Jamaica, climate-related events are major threats to the agricultural sector, which represents about seven per cent of GDP and employs roughly 18 per cent of the country’s population. As climate change threatens economic opportunities for small-scale farmers, it is essential to introduce new business models and technologies that will equip farmers to not only adapt, but to thrive.

“Aquaponics also is attractive to youth, women and individuals with disabilities as a viable career, because it is far less labour-intensive than traditional farming,” Barrett adds.

Marcus Sewell was one of 20 farmers to participate in INMED Caribbean’s first three-day training workshop in mid-July, including two days of classroom lectures and one day of hands-on participatory education at an INMED aquaponics system at Knockalva Agricultural School.

Future on-site training also will take place at CASE, which is just breaking ground on an INMED aquaponics system on its campus in Port Antonio, Portland.

Like Wallace, Sewell has been experimenting with a home aquaponics system, but has not yet produced a harvestable crop. “A lot of people doubt my idea, but I am determined to prove to them it works,” he says.

IACA will help Sewell do that and more. “I’ve always loved farming, because I grew up on a farm, but my passion was always for electronics, computers and technology,” he says. “Learning about INMED’s aquaponics programme sparked my interest, because it gives me the opportunity to introduce technology while using innovation to help produce healthy food.”

Before taking the workshop, prospective participants were required to complete an online training course to learn the basics of aquaponics and entrepreneurship, which also prequalified them for special loan packages from local financing institutions to build a commercial aquaponics system.

INMED is working with the Development Bank of Jamaica and local financial institutions to provide IACA programme participants access to affordable financing to start aquaponics enterprises and facilitate loan repayment. With support from the Caribbean Development Bank, INMED is also training local RADA extension agents to provide ongoing technical training and assistance to farmers in their communities to grow and sustain the programme.

“We at CDB understand the role that aquaponics enterprises can play in supporting economic growth in Jamaica and the livelihoods of entrepreneurs and their families,” Darran Newman, acting division chief of the CDB’s Technical Cooperation Division, said at the launch event. “Capacity-building is also key to developing this high-potential sector, and we are pleased to collaborate with other partners on this project.”

INMED Caribbean recently held two train-the-trainer workshops for roughly 40 RADA agents. “Providing ongoing support to our IACA farmers is critical to the success of this programme,” noted Kristin Callahan, director of international programmes for INMED. “Maintaining an aquaponics system can be challenging at times, primarily because it is a new farming method for most, but with technical support available directly in farmers’ communities, we’re confident that aquaponics will take root and flourish in Jamaica.”

That extra support is a relief to Wallace, who quickly learned that building and maintaining a commercial system is more involved than her home aquaponics system, which consists of a plastic bin of catfish and several shelves of vegetable plantings.

“The training gave me more insight into the essentials of operating an aquaponics system — not just the technical aspects, but also the financial and commitment level required for such a business,” she said. “My main goal is to have a registered family-owned business from this venture to achieve financial security for myself and family.”

Sewell also is looking forward to making his aquaponics farm a reality. He’s already scouting for land and is finishing his business plan and pitch to secure a loan for construction.

“Tanesha and Marcus are just the type of people we’re trying to reach,” said Dr Linda Pfeiffer, president and CEO of INMED Partnerships for Children. “With the right tools and resources, Jamaicans can transform their personal futures and local economies in a sustainable way.”

INMED Partnerships for Children is a nonprofit international development organisation that has worked in more than 100 countries to create a world where all children are safe, healthy, educated and have access to opportunities to thrive. Through multi-sector partnerships, INMED builds effective systems that deliver innovative and sustainable approaches to break complex cycles of poverty and generate opportunities for success. INMED’s programmes in adaptive agriculture/aquaponics, maternal and child health, and disease prevention and education and have made a sustainable impact on the lives of millions of children and their families since 1986.

For more information about INMED’s IACA programme or to register as a participant, visit https://inmedcaribbean.org or call 876-665-9141.

Posted in Jamaica OBSERVER on Monday August 6, 2018

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/inmed-caribbean-brings-the_139527