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Aruban Food, Made with Local Pride

I believe the food system in Aruba can be overhauled to benefit all the island's residents and make the tourism industry more sustainable.

Photo of Joseph Chidiac
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Cultivation Bioengineering LTD

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.CultiBioLtd.com

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

  • 3-10 years

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

Bella Vista, Arkansas.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The United States of America.

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

Aruba, the island nation, covers 178.9 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Aruba, in the Dutch Caribbean.

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I selected Aruba because I have traveled there several times for work including lobbying the government on agricultural issues, aiding investors with planning and due diligence, and designing and building a hydroponic farm with a novel cultivation system for sustainable local food production. I immediately fell in love with this remarkable island and its people, and I have continued to learn more and more about its nature, history, and the challenges that affect its future. 

It is especially important to me since it represents all the places that are most vulnerable to climate change and economic volatility. I consider it critical that we pitch in to help these communities rise to the challenge and take ownership of their sustainable prosperity.

I am now irreversibly connected to Aruba through the numerous good friends I have made on the island and I am as concerned as they are with the challenges they face and their aspirations for the future of their island. My wife and I even took our late honeymoon there to dive deeper into the spectacular scenery and immerse ourselves in local culture, and we continue to be amazed and awe inspired. 

Aruba is a uniquely beautiful and diverse place with a rich history and an uncertain future, and I believe prosperity and sustainability will come from local cooperative efforts in and beyond agriculture with the help of the international community and the funding necessary to jumpstart a self sufficient industry that creates value and contributes to health while cutting into food imports to the island and lowering the associated carbon footprint.

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.

Aruba is a desert island in the Dutch Caribbean with a beautiful landscape and very warm and diverse people. It is frequented by over a million North American, European, and South American tourists each year. In fact, tourism is by far the major industry that sustains the population of Aruba currently, though it is rapidly changing in ways that worry local business owners. It is considered a safe country ripe for investment and with a strong tourism industry on which the economy currently relies. Environmental conditions are quite stable year round including steady winds, strong sunlight, and very infrequent rains or cloudy days. The culture and language are a marked mix of Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, and the population seems to maintain equally strong relations with the US, Holland, and Colombia. There appears to be very few truly local dishes, and fast food from around the world is coopted as a substitute, despite the fact that more locals and tourists are starting to demand fresher and healthier local foods. Vegan and vegetarian diets are quickly becoming more prevalent, but the vast majority of the produce available is imported and has lost much of its flavor and nutrition in transit. Countries like Venezuela, which Aruba has long depended on for tomato and other imports has even halted trade, creating a void in the Aruban market. This makes Aruba vulnerable to economic and political changes in the countries on which it relies for food and materials. In addition, rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer have been skyrocketing recently with the introduction of so many fast food chains. Lastly, the Aruban youth are very well educated and have very little opportunity to find rewarding jobs on the island outside of the service industry and resorts. An overhaul of the food system using climate smart farms with versatile and efficient cultivation systems would ensure more opportunities and funds are generated and stay on the island. Lowering the barrier to entry through grants targeting small scale agricultural entrepreneurs could serve to improve the quality of life, the health of the population, the unemployment situation, the environmental sustainability, as well as the entire reputation of Aruba as a nation.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

179

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

110000

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

Environment: Aruba struggles with a harsh climate, with too much wind and sun, poor soil, and not enough rain for the majority of food crops to be grown conventionally. Hence, fruit, vegetable, and even cattle production is limited in scale, relying largely on diesel generated power and desalinated water. By 2050, the climate could be harsher, with the island experiencing more frequent storms and stronger winds, making conventional agriculture even more impractical. 

Diets: People's diets include the most common fruits and vegetables popularly consumed in the USA and Europe, including many cold weather or water intensive crops that are all imported. This demand is eclipsed by visiting tourists' demand for many of the same products plus tropical fruits brought in from South America. Despite some encouraging trends in healthy eating, the island is being overrun with fast food chains while incomes are failing to grow with the cost of living. By 2050, a larger population with poor access to affordable fresh and nutritious food could resort to eating nothing but easily cheap fast food with low nutritional value, further exacerbating the current health crisis. 

Economics: The growing demand by locals and tourists for imported fresh vegetables and fruits causes an imbalance that creates an economic risk for the country, which is relying heavily on a tourism industry that is increasingly failing to bring local business revenue due to all inclusive stays at foreign owned resorts or cruise ships that visit the island. By 2050, the tourism industry could be contributing zero wealth to the local population who would still be importing everything they eat and all the materials they use, causing a recession and a national debt that could result in the complete neglect of island infrastructure and utilities. 

Culture: Arubans are warm, friendly, worldly, and industrious people that know how to have fun. They know that good relationships and constant cooperation are the only ways to make progress, and they are keen to exploit opportunities to make life easier. Arubans can also get caught up in island political rivalries and fail to keep a focus on the big picture when their interests are threatened. By 2050, if the population rises steadily without the creation of new opportunities in sustainable sectors, the culture could become more competitive and less laid back, and this would affect tourism negatively. 

Technology: Arubans are generally well educated and use the majority of technologies available to them, though there is a shortage of jobs that make use of technological knowledge and skill currently. By 2050, more of the skilled population may have moved away for work, reducing the pool of good candidates. 

Policy: Many incentives exist for agricultural entrepreneurs including tax exemptions on supplies and special rates on water and electric power. By 2050, the government may need its own support from sustainable and profitable industries such as agriculture.

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

The deployment of numerous controlled environment farms across Aruba can affect every facet of life on the island. Food production will become less vulnerable to the harsh weather conditions and climate change while using water, fertilizer, power, and land significantly more efficiently, thereby reducing the environmental impact of food production for locals and visitors and eliminating the need for long distance transport. Locals will then also have reliable access to fresh local food products at a lower price than ever, thanks to the tourists paying high prices for their food at upscale resorts that offset the costs for locals. This will significantly improve diets and the health of the population, in turn saving the government healthcare system funds that can be invested in other areas. With a reduced food import bill, and potentially food exports to other Caribbean islands, the Aruban population will prosper and invest in better infrastructure for a growing economy, including more solar and wind energy generators, further reducing reliance on imports. With economic prosperity, Aruba will be able to maintain the culture that attracts people to visit there. It will remain one happy island with a population that is happy to share paradise with each other and with countless visitors who leave wanting to return. High tech farming can even be a tourist attraction of its own, and many new jobs in plant and animal science will be generated in addition to those in education, technology, and engineering. With all this in place, sound government policies surrounding education, healthcare, infrastructure, and environmental protection will be met with more support and funding locally, leading to more opportunities for young people and a more engaged national community.

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.

Welcome to Aruba! The vast majority of food on the island is grown on the island using renewable energy and water sources. This is achieved through a cooperative of farmers who coordinate crops, supply purchases, continuing education and training, and contracts with purchasers. These farmers recover foreign money by selling to foreign owned resorts and virtually eliminate food imports by supplying local supermarkets and new farmer's markets across the island. Those who were previously food importers and wholesalers now use their refrigerated vehicles for a pick up and delivery service offered to local farms. As a result, everyone has access to and can afford clean, nutritious foods and enjoy lower incidences of health issues across the board. The government thereby saves tax funds on healthcare and invests heavily in land and marine wildlife conservation to boost tourism. More and more visitors enjoy Aruba as a tourism destination, spend money on the island while preserving the island's economy and environment, leading to a reinforcement of Aruba's culture of pride, hospitality, and color. In such a thriving place, Aruban expats return and found science and tech businesses and hire local staff. Finally, with the economy more self-sufficient than ever, the government can now focus on policies that allow for world class education and medicine programs as well as new investments into arts and humanities. Aruba is now an ideal of what is possible under dire circumstances when people come together and use systems thinking, future-casting, and the human centered design process to envision and create a better future for all who live and visit there.

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

In my conversations with the prime minister, the minister of health, the minister of social development, and countless business and farm owners, I learned the finer points about what a food system overhaul could mean for Aruba. My venture with my partners in Aruba intended to test whether our vision was viable, and we have now been growing a wide variety of crops (including cold weather crops) in a highly energy efficient greenhouse with a novel hydroponic system successfully for a year. Everything the farm produces is sold, and our customers are impressed with the quality of the produce every time. This farm, called Local Pride Farms, is already expanding and the next phase will feature a farm ten times larger so that we can supply more of the restaurants and resorts that are ready to buy produce locally and enjoy consistent quality and availability. Due to the scale of the demand for produce resulting from the tourism industry, the opportunity still exists for many other locals to start farming businesses and make a reliable income. In fact, Local Pride Farms has started a cooperative with several other local farms, and will continue to grow and include more people in this cooperative so that any local farmer at any scale can stand up to and compete with large produce wholesalers and importers through the cooperative. Within this cooperative, we will provide the technical education required for farmers to be self-sufficient and solve their own problems. We will also share knowledge on equipment and supplies that work well under tropical conditions and help people avoid many of the purchases that have failed to bring a return on investment. Training programs will also be available to those who wish to work within this industry, either as entrepreneurs and family businesses or as employees of larger farms. Our outreach programs will educate the public on produce quality standards, culinary science, and proper nutrition for healthy living. Notably, government policies supporting health and education will help us achieve change, in part by funding demonstrational farms and gardens across the country. Achieving this vision will require a comprehensive approach integrating cultivation technologies, renewable energies, local diets and attitudes, as well as available human resources, however, the transformative potential is unparalleled. If the community at large is thoughtfully included and inspired, the total transformation of the country's food system and subsequently the culture and economy will be successful, and when it is, this model will rapidly spread to nearby Curacao and Bonaire, then the entire Caribbean, and finally every where in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia where similar challenges exist. Overcoming the technical challenges to efficiently, sustainably, and profitably growing the crops in demand is in fact the first step in overcoming the remaining economic, medical, social and environmental challenges. I firmly believe in this vision for Aruba, and I know many Arubans do too. Therefore, we will make it a reality no matter what, and your support and guidance would mean so more than you can imagine! 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

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3 comments

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Spam
Photo of Joseph Chidiac
Team

Hello Constanza,

Thank you very much for taking the time to review my Food System Vision for Aruba. I appreciate your thoughtful commentary and useful advice, therefore I will review the guidelines as you suggest and see what I can do to better map interconnections between the related concepts.

I intend to make the necessary changes over the next few days and will reach out to you if I have any questions or need clarification.

Thanks again and have a wonderful day!

Best regards,

JC

Spam
Photo of Constanza Castano
Team

Hi Joseph Chidiac ,
My pleasure. I'll be here if you need anything. A great way to improve and revise your work is by connecting with others and receiving feedback. I encourage you all to provide some feedback on one another’s Vision submissions through the comments section to support the refinement of your work.
Thank you for being part of this Community!
Best,
Constanza

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