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The pillar of everything

Agriculture forms the basis of a systemic change that will revitalize the economy of Sint Maarten

Photo of Phaedra Romney
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

St Maarten Agriculture Research and Development Center

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

More than 20 active farmers (not all of them officially registered), Prins Bernhard Cultural Fund, UNESCO, UNDP, Government of Sint Maarten, University of Sint Maarten,

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://stmaartenagriculture.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?

Sint Maarten, island country in the (Dutch) Caribbean.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The Lead Applicant is situated on the same island.

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

Sint Maarten covers an area of 34 km2, the southern half of a two-island nation. It shares the island with French Saint Martin.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Sint Maarten. In time we hope to get the other half of the island involved (French Saint Martin). As economies of scale go, more can be done

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

My name is Phaedra Romney and I am part of the Rombley family, owners of the Hope Estate on Sint Maarten. Originally part of the Hope Plantation this property has been in the Rombley Family for over 100 years. Bought by our enslaved ancestor William Alfred Rombley in 1915, we feel strongly about honouring and protecting our heritage with the right type of development. And that's why we have joined forces with Denicio Wyatte.

Denicio Wyatte

Denicio Wyatte was born and raised on Sint Maarten. He got into agriculture through his stepfather, after he planted sweet peppers in the garden. Denicio was amazed to see them grow, right in his own backyard. Since then he’s been on a self-nurturing journey, researching and experimenting with the best possibilities and approaches, to implement agriculture and ecotourism on Sint Maarten with his Agriculture Foundation.

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.

Sint Maarten can be found in the Northeastern Caribbean Sea. It's surrounded by mountains with volcanic interiors and is separated into two distinct parts. The north border is shared with the French overseas Collectivity of Saint Martin.Together, these two countries make up the smallest landmass in the world shared by two self-governing states.

After being part of the Netherlands Antilles for over 50 years, Sint Maarten became a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10, 2010. Therefore, it is no longer a Dutch overseas dependence, rather a constituent partner within the Kingdom, alongside the Netherlands, Curaçao and Aruba; and enjoys a degree of internal autonomy.

The economic pillar

In the 1950's, its people lived 'off the land'- from agriculture. Money was not an issue, people bought their produce cheaply from local markets. The economy is now based on tourism, which has come with changes, one being a duty-free status with no import or export taxes. This has accelerated a long history of immigration, evident by one of the cultural traits that define Sint Maarten: its multiculturalism and multilingualism. Many of the local cultural traditions were put aside for a more American way of life, including the food that is consumed. 

Sint Maarten has about 40.535 residents, most of them are immigrants, with the majority born in the Dominican Republic (12.4%) and Haiti (9.2%).

The average income per capita is relatively high. 

Construction, accommodation and food serving are the most important economic activities on the island, but this is all tied to tourism, by far the main pillar of the economy.

The education system

The education system in St. Maarten is divided into nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary education. There are three different types of schools in St. Maarten: government owned (public schools), government subsidized, and non-subsidized schools (private schools).

Home life

Many children in Sint Maarten are raised in less structured families (single-parent households account for 15 percent of de population). The mothers are therefore often fully responsible for the (economic) wellbeing of their children. The wage gap between males and females forces these mothers to work multiple jobs to meet the needs of their family.

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

34

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

45000

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

Food security is the main challenge Sint Maarten faces. All the other challenges stem from there. The environmental impact of monster hurricanes could be critical in making food security a central part of discussions in Parliament.

Environmental

2020: Scientists have said that monster hurricanes like hurricane Irma, that devasted Sint Maarten in September 2017, will occur more often in future. The few farms that the island has, could not provide the food people needed.

2050:  

Economical

2020: Inspiring our youth to choose an entrepreneurial career in agriculture, teaching them not to sit back and wait to be fed, but to feed themselves, is a number one priority, and challenge.

2050: The Sint Maarten model is being copied all over the Caribbean, making all island similar and not diversified enough.

Dietary

2020: The current eating habits come with many health issues, like obesity, diabets and coronary diseases. Getting people to eat healthy is the challenge.

2050: Not enough organic waste to go around. We have to look toward importing it, as it is used to make wares for the tourists.

Cultural

2020: Many children in Sint Maarten are raised in single-parent households. These mothers work multiple jobs to meet the needs of their family. This has impacted the family structure to such an extent that children are practically raising themselves, eating unhealthy in the process.

2050: Families are closer than ever. Building houses big enough to house different generations is proving difficult due to lack of land for housing.

Political

2020: The close and personal connections between citizens and politicians on Sint Maarten has created a ‘patron-client’ relationship. The concentration of power is in the hands of few. Challenge will be not to get sucked into any power struggle between different political factions, but to remain the neutral outsider, providing objective information.

2050: The grassroots movement had severed the hold politicians have on the people. It remains a challenge to not create a new 'patron' on such a small island.

Technology

2020: Just getting the community involved and accustomed of agriculture becoming an integral part in our lives, will be challenging enough. Collaborating with families (like the Rombley family) could ensure that ‘indoor-farming’ gets off the ground.

2050: We are happy with our containers with indoor farming, vertical farms. Only problem is that it's not so nice to work in such small enclosed space. Making it hard to find people to work there.

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

The challenge of securing Sint Maarten’s food for the future will begin with the most important pillar: tourism. Tourism was the reason we stopped growing our own food and importing food from abroad. By working together in private and public partnerships, we can kickstart the process.

Environmental 

Rebuilding back stronger, better and more sustainable, (after the hurricane) is also allowing farmers to own their land with dedicated production for country Sint Maarten. It’s fresh in everyone’s mind that there was little food or water to be found after the water and none could be shipped in, because both the airport and the harbour were destroyed.

Rebuilding our natural wells to ensure that, whenever another disaster happens, we have our own water source.

Dietary

‘Backyard gardens’ can make a difference here. We will supply adequate information and training.

Economical

Reduce waste while creating employment and entrepreneurship.

Cultural

Return to gardening (‘back yard’ gardening) as a way to be less dependent on outside sources. This too will be taken up in the funding package.

Political

Enforcing the current building codes that secure green space that can be utilized for agriculture, including hilltops. The Building Back Better program makes it easier to get this on the agenda.

Technology

Working with landowners, government and NGO’s to start a pilot with more technology driven farming in containers.



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.

The world has changed. The disconnect between people and nature has ceased. Humanity is no longer creating and sustaining its own Dis-Ease. The reversal of this illness has come, because of a regenerative approach within the educational and social communities.

Healthy lifestyle habits have led to better decision making. Everyone needs to eat. Every day. We no longer exclude agriculture from the equation. We now understand the benefits this sector brings to all living creatures. The value, security and sustainability it adds to life itself.

The richest man in the world depends on food for survival, not his money. So, if there is no food money truly has no value. We would pay 1,000,000 for a loaf of bread if that became the price, and we could afford it.

We have changed our mindset and decided what really is valuable in life. It began when we learned to appreciate our (cultural) roots. The impact food has on the world is not the question. Our impact on food security, that is the real question. And that came when people realized the true value of their cultural heritage.

Now that people are aware of the value food has in their daily lives, they have become more innovative and entrepreneurial. Making it a profitable way to sustain their family.

Due to the many opportunities now available through agriculture, we have less crime.  It also had a trickle-down effect on the health care system. Less people go to the doctor’s or are in the hospital, because of eating healthier.

The world has gone green and it has had a great impact on our one-pillar-tourism economy. The social impact on our community is wonderful to behold. We enjoy spending time together and having the opportunity to feed ourselves and our family.

Agriculture has changed lives. Hunger, and poverty… all gone. Now that we understand the value of education and we are aware of the fact that the impact of agriculture is endless, we see it as the pillar that sustains life itself.

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

There is a reason that Sint Maarten does not feed itself but imports all her food. After the first hotels opened their doors and people saw how much money you could make, they abandoned their fields and looked for a job at one of the many hotels that followed. Who could blame them? They were barely managing to eke out a living from their small farms. Working in the tourist branch brough prosperity to all.

Why change it then?

Because this system is beginning to disintegrate at the seams. The prosperity Sint Maarten encountered has come at a very high price.  

Climate change, a rise in non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) diabetes, heart disease, stroke, etc., poverty, crime. These are just some of the issues facing the island country of Sint Maarten.

Denicio Wyatte has been working tirelessly to get the whole community involved. Despite his drive and that of others who have joined the group, it has been an uphill battle. But the times, they are a changing. Hurricane Irma put a spotlight on how precarious things are if you don’t have your own food source. It put food security on the map.

Agriculture – The Pillar of Everything

Our aim is to nurture the green pillar of agriculture, because it’s the root of it all.

Environment

Sint Maarten’s food system has to adapt to climate change. With nature being more volatile than before, traditional farming is adapting, protecting seedlings, prepared to replant as soon as possible. Here technology and culture have a role to play. Vertical farming can be introduced by collaborating with landowners. First a pilot has to prove it financially prudent to do.

Economy

At the moment there are between 20-40 small farms. At the other end, there are many people profiting from the food importation. It provides jobs for many. With people working long hours, it’s a lot to ask of them to stop using processed, easy, cheap and fast food.

Going from 1% Agriculture to any percentage above that will not be easy. But this is a change many will be forced to make.

Diets

There are many with non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, etc. Many people are aware of the link between these illnesses and the food they eat. But even then, change is hard. So, the seed has been planted. There are individuals and various organisations on the island fighting to get their message heard. Collaborating and making a concerted effort to, together, combat this from various angles, will make a big difference.

Culture

Family is important for the people of Sint Maarten. Reminding them of things of old, like jollification, can form the basis of a grassroots movement. Jollification is when people come together and just enjoy each other’s company. Homes were built that way in the past. Of course, while working, food and drink was provided by the host.

Hinging on the concept jollification is our new approach to landscaping, the Edible Landscaping Contest. Every yard must have a garden. And everything in that garden should be edible or for medicinal purposes.

Technology

Technology is necessary and useful. We won’t dispute that. However, traditional farming should always be a part of the mix. Nothing beats the sun, rainwater and soil that is open to the elements. We have some tricks up our sleeve to maximize the yield, in a natural, regenerative and sustainable way. It keeps our body and mind fit and nimble.

But of course, there is room for things like vertical farming, hydroponics, aquaponics (what some farmers are already doing). We need to do a pilot first.

Policy

We have had many issues with the government. They would claim to support our mission on the one hand, but after they’d visited the farm and left, not much happens.

Politicians are dependent on votes. We hope to incentivize them to support us by winning the hearts and minds of the people.

The first thing to be solved is to have policy in place that will give farmers the right to farm the land they’re on.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Website
  • Prize partners

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FYI, By mistake I left out a discreption of the 2050 challenge (Environment). It should have been as follows:
"Monster hurricanes still occur, but not as often as in 2020. We have done our best to undo the damage we did to nature, but due to Sint Maarten having less sunlight hours dan in the past, some of our indigneous plants are not doing as well as in the past."

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