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Climate Smart Protected Agriculture for Small Island Developing States

Building commercial scale climate resistant greenhouse farms in island states to reduce food import dependency by growing locally.

Photo of Ralph Birkhoff
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Alquimi Renewables, LLC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.islandagtech.com and www.alquimirenewables.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Westport, CT

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Our target islands includes all Caribbean islands including Anguilla, BWI, an island of 35 square miles.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Anguilla, British West Indies

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I am currently based in Anguilla and have resided here for 3 years now. We were here when hurricane Irma hit and devastated the region and witnessed first hand the impact of hurricanes on the food supply system and destruction of the limited agricultural base. I have lived in several islands over the past 9 years and worked here for over 18 years. During that time I witnessed firsthand the climate conditions threatening local soil based agricultural production, the extremely high dependency on foreign food imports, and the low quality and high prices of imported produce.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Anguilla is an English speaking small island in the northern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. It was once part of St. Kitts & Nevis, but became an independent state in 1967 under the governorship of the UK. It once boasted agricultural production and even export, but is now limited to small share-cropping and limited food production in root crops. The Anguilla economy, like most Caribbean islands, relies almost entirely on tourism now. While there are many eateries serving local dishes and seafood, the development of large resorts and restaurants has created a total dependency on fresh produce imports which now stands at over 90% of demand. Anguillians are a proud, independent, and resourceful people - and hard workers. They are 'people of the land and sea' and while some continue to attempt to farm the land and others spend their days on the sea to fish, there are limiting resources hindering their growth. The island is 14 miles long and a few miles wide and is a windswept low lying, coral based island. Arable land is therefore extremely limited. The climate is hot and dry for most of the year with many periods of severe drought, and the hurricane season runs from June to November bringing new threats. While some water is produced by a single municipal desalination plant, most residents rely on a rainwater catchment/cistern system for water supply. Farming in Anguilla is limited to a few small family-owned farms that grow only indigenous crops including tubers (sweet potatoes), onions, and cassava. Corn was recently introduced but only in small fields and the plants did not produce much yield. Cold weather crops including all leafy greens are attempted but quality and consistency is extremely poor and they can only be grown during the short wetter season. The two existing hydroponic farms were destroyed in hurricane Irma in 2017 but were never rebuilt. Local farmers average about 55 years in age, and their children are not interested in farming so eventually even these small family farms will die out. By establishing a climate smart farm in Anguilla we will attract the youth, both men and women, back to agriculture as a career, and create many new and skilled jobs in agriculture for local residents. We can teach them new skills using the latest hydroponic technologies which they can monetize anywhere in the world if they so choose. By scaling up our farm we can make Anguilla a net exporter of high quality fresh produce to the nearby island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin which has 5x the food demand of Angulila. By growing this high nutrient content food locally, we can make it more accessible and affordable to the local population and perhaps introduce healthier eating habits over the longer term.

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Anguilla already imports over 90% of it's fresh produce demand. Increased pressure on this food supply system continues as tourism development accelerates. The agricultural sector, already limited to small plot farming, will eventually die out altogether as aging farmers pass away and the limited arable land disappears. Climate change continues to increase the threat and occurence level of hurricanes, drought, and flooding. Tourism development continues to increase and place further pressure on the imported food system. Quality food prices will consequently continue to increase and be less accessible to the local population. A continued diet of high starch root vegetables and fruits (and imported processed foods) will continue and the high level of diabetes will run unabated. While service based jobs may increase, access to higher skilled/higher pay jobs are needed. The technology to solve local food production through protected agriculture is non-existent in the islands. It has been tried and failed. The only solution to an increased economy in agriculture is through 100% saturation of local food production and supply, and the ability to increase production for export to Sint Maarten.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Protected agriculture (CEA or greenhouse farming) has been proven globally to solve local food production challenges. Until now, there has been no greenhouse system developed that is strong enough to withstand Category 5 hurricanes which are increasing in regularity in the Caribbean. Consequently all attempts at greenhouse farming in the Caribbean using inferior systems have failed. Recent impact in Bermuda: http://www.royalgazette.com/weather---news/article/20190921/humberto-hits-farmers-hard Our proprietary IAT greenhouse systems are the first to be engineered to withstand up to 175mph sustained wind loads (10 second gusts up to 200mph) and meet all ASCE - 7 - 2015 and IBC - 2012 engineering and building code standards. This ensures reliability of year-round supply to our off-takers which is of significant importance to their businesses. We will eventually introduce alternative energy sources to power our farming operations including solar and biogas fuelled CHP systems. This will initiate biomass processing which can include sources from across the island and add to the current waste management initiatives. Our IAT greenhouse systems are commercially insurable including structural, crop value, and business interruption, and have a 50 year structural warranty. Proven high yield sub-tropical hydroponic systems will deliver high volumes of organic quailty produce on a limited operational footprint. Our greenhouse farms will be located on 'scrub land' which will ensure that all arable land is left for local production. Our farms will grow only currently imported produce categories including all leafy greens, lettuces, herbs, tomato varieties, pepper varieties, and berry fruits. Our greenhouse systems can be deployed and operational extremely quickly thereby allowing us to meet demand and scale up very rapidly to meet additional demand. Our farm operations are partnered with local ownership interests. We have developed a training, certification and recruitment strategy to ensure we employ local personnel. As we scale up our staff requirements will increase to 50-80 full time staff working in various functions in plant management, harvesting, packaging, and management/administration/sales, etc. By growing food locally we will have a positive impact on the carbon footprint reduction of shipping and logistics caused by importation. Programming our harvest and supply schedule on a weekly basis to our customers will reduce food waste almost entirely. Our farms will create a new industry on the islands, driving further economic independence, unemployment reduction, and will drive downstream business opportunities in agri-processing.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Local food production through climate smart protected agriculture, and integrated with alternative energy and biomass processing, will provide the following short and long term benefits to the island(s): 1. National food security; 2. Reduced dependency on imported foods; 3. Improved food quality and nutritional content; 4. Reduction of food waste; 5. Access to better quality food to the local population; 6. Improved dining experience to support the main economic sector - tourism; 7. Skilled job creation and technical training to the local population; 8. Youth and women empowerment; 9. Economic growth through job creation; 10. Ability to support an export industry; 11. Ability to support an expanded local agri-processing industry; 12. Reduction of carbon emissions produced by shipping and transport of food;

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our Vision for this project is to have Phase 1 operational by Q2 2020 and be fully scaled up to meet local and export demand by 2023. We have established partners to finance this growth objective. By 2050 we expect to be reducing the regional import dependency of fresh produce by at least 50% as we expand the model across many islands in the Caribbean. Our Project and technologies will drive climate smart food production and solve for all environmental and climate threat to make agricultural production a reality for Anguilla and other island states across the region. Our farms will produce large volumes of organic quality produce with high nutrient content to help improve diets of all local residents through supermarket supply and our own farm food market. By introducing and building a new sector in Protected Agriculture and creating skilled technical jobs to the local population including youth and women, our farm will help "Grow more Farmers". Downstream economic improvement directly supported by our farms include local agri-processing and food export. By growing locally and introducing national food security employing local expertise, we will drive food and economic independence for the people of Anguilla. We will support and improve the tourism sector through improved food quality. We have full support of the Government of Anguilla and the Ministry of Agriculture whom we work with directly to ensure compatibility with current local farming interests. They are interested and excited about expanding our farms one day to include aquaculture and floral production. We are delighted with the full engagement with these public interests. Access to our technologies and farming systems are open to all. We envision a day where other local farmers (and youth!) will start their own greenhouse farms to focus on specialty crops after training and working in our farms. Eventually our farms will grow all demand for local fresh produce and completely eliminate the need for imported produce altogether.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • LinkedIn Forbes article posted by Daphne Ewing-Chow who is a great supporter of our Vision!

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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