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Reinventing an Ancient Agricultural Practice in Jamaica to Deliver Inclusive and Sustainable Livelihoods in Our Rapidly Changing World

INMED’s innovative aquaponics model transforms struggling farming communities in Jamaica into thriving climate-smart hubs of self-reliance

Photo of Alexandra South
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

INMED Partnerships for Children

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 3-10 years

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

Sterling, Virginia

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?

Degraded watersheds in smallholder farming communities on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, which has a total area of 10,989 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Jamaica is a key focus of INMED’s vision, as its once-vibrant agricultural sector has been hard hit by climate-driven storms, poor land management and over-fishing. The availability of fresh produce has shrunk, while Jamaica’s food import bill has risen. Jamaica is a microcosm of the global struggle to assure food security in the face of climate change, with the national will and manageable population size to be a living laboratory and a global model for an inclusive and comprehensive approach to sustainable food production.

We first developed INMED Aquaponics™, combining soilless crop production and fish farming in a symbiotic closed system, in Jamaica, which we have since expanded to South Africa, Peru and Brazil.  Aquaponics adapts an ancient agricultural technology used since Aztec times to build sustainable livelihoods and long-term food security. INMED’s model combines aquaponics with physical and virtual training, links to markets, business planning and access to financing. Unlike more complex types of aquaponics, INMED’s systems are easily used by Jamaicans of all abilities while dramatically conserving scarce water, land, and energy resources. INMED’s solar-powered systems produce up to ten times more high-quality crops in the same space as conventional agriculture and require no soil, no fertilizers or pesticides.

INMED has built strong partnerships in Jamaica, working closely with smallholder farmers, College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (MEGJC), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and Ministries of Agriculture and Environment. By engaging Jamaican stakeholders throughout the value chain, and combining technical trainings with links to business, INMED provides the sustainable tools farmers need long-term to not just survive, but thrive, in a climate-altered future.

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.

As the largest island in the English-speaking Caribbean, and the most populated with 2.93 million people, Jamaica is a regional leader among neighboring islands in the Greater Antilles. Originally sparsely settled by indigenous Taíno communities and later colonized and brutalized by the Spanish and the British in the 16th and 17th centuries as a major thoroughfare in the African slave trade, Jamaica achieved its independence in 1962.

Contemporary Jamaica is a rich amalgamation of diverse cultures, traditions, religions, and languages, rooted in African, European, indigenous, Indian, and Chinese origins. Among its neighbors, Jamaica has comparatively low inequality and decreasing public debt. Indeed, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jamaica has made significant progress in reducing undernourishment (now hovering at ten percent) and toward meeting global hunger targets.

At the same time, the island is highly vulnerable to the ongoing threat of climate change, particularly the increasing frequency and intensity of storms, hotter temperatures, extended droughts, and decreased water quality as sea levels rise and soil quality deteriorates. While the island’s topography includes 6,000-foot-plus mountains, where Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee is grown, it is mainly an agricultural economy. The lowlands have been used primarily to grow sugar cane, which has depleted the soil, and many rivers now run dry part of the year due to droughts and soil erosion. Small-scale farmers are disproportionately impacted in an agricultural sector which represents about 7 percent of GDP and employs about 18 percent of the country’s population.

Importantly, the Jamaican government has recognized the extent of the threat and created its National Development Plan—Vision 2030, which provides the framework to ensure climate change issues are mainstreamed into national policies and development activities. Jamaica also has a thriving tourism industry which is a ready market for produce, if small-scale farmers are able to access the right tools, training, and financing. The inclusivity of girls and women is becoming increasingly important in the country and to the future of the agricultural sector as well, with the majority of college graduates now being women.

In an island country that is rapidly changing due to climate change, INMED is focusing on aquaponics as a comprehensive community-based intervention that streamlines local production of fresh, healthy foods, boosts inclusivity of long-marginalized populations and enables a new generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs to flourish. INMED’s model increases opportunities for hands-on and virtual climate-smart agricultural training, increasing education and economic opportunities across the whole food value chain, and aligns closely with Jamaica’s national climate change vision as well as the hopes of a nation brimming with potential for a return to its once-vibrant agricultural sector.

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


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


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

In Jamaica, disparities in access to fresh, nutritious foods persist, with lifelong consequences for countless young people who could succeed if given the opportunity. A recent study in The Lancet underscores how interrelated threats of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change constitute a global “syndemic,” or synergy of epidemics, because they co-occur in time and place, interact with each other in complex ways, and share common underlying societal drivers.

Jamaica is an important focal point for prevention and mitigation of this syndemic. The FAO reported in 2019 that the explosive increase in adult obesity in the Caribbean region—rising from six per cent in 1975 to 25 per cent in 2019, or an increase from 760,000 people to 6.6 million people—represents an enormous threat to the health, economies, and lives of hundreds of thousands of people today. The rates of both childhood and adolescent obesity in the Caribbean tripled between 1990 and 2016 as well.

Amid the rapid rise of obesity, the effects of climate change are increasingly being recognized worldwide, with dire implications for 2050, absent a coordinated global effort to effect systems-level change. In 2019, the United Nations revealed that activities such as farming, logging, poaching, fishing, and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in modern history.” Jamaica represents a microcosm of these challenges. According to a 2013 analysis by the FAO, Jamaica’s small land mass, fragile ecosystems, high dependence on food exports and increasing extreme climate events, are all factors that make its agricultural sector especially vulnerable to climate change impacts. The agricultural economy is dualistic, split between large-scale commercial plantations that produce primarily for the export market, and small-scale farms that produce for household subsistence and the domestic market. It is these small-scale farms that are most vulnerable to the increasing effects of climate change, and as such, are the main targets of INMED’s innovation.

Climate change projections show that the Caribbean region is expected to transition to a warmer and drier climate over the course of this century, reducing crop productivity and increasing the chance of crop failure. Reduced water availability and extreme climate-related events, such as hurricanes, water stagnation, and saltwater intrusion will significantly affect not only small-scale agriculture but rural livelihoods and value chains. The Water Resources Authority of Jamaica has predicted that water demand for agriculture will increase while yield will decrease, with the suitability of crops such as cabbage, carrot, ginger, sweet potato and tomato at risk by 2050. We recognize the importance of addressing these challenges both on-the-ground and at the policy level through Jamaica’s national climate plan, commitment to reduce dependence on imports, and the Ministry of Education’s focus on nutrition education in schools. The time is right to scale INMED’s comprehensive Aquaponics™ model across the island to secure food security and livelihoods for Jamaica’s small-scale farmers, now and for future generations.

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

INMED is a pioneer in the field of aquaponics for development, with a record of success in adapting the technology to diverse geographic areas, from jungles to deserts in southern Africa and Latin America, and among varied partners and populations including the disabled, youth and women since 2010, beginning in Jamaica. While there is growing interest in aquaponics worldwide, many systems are prohibitively expensive and complex – and lack a comprehensive model of physical and virtual training and support, networks of mentor farmers and trained agriculture extension agents, links to markets and access to financing.

INMED has developed a simple, affordable aquaponics system for small-scale farmers, schools, government institutions, home producers and entrepreneurs that uses easily accessible “off the shelf” local materials. Its modular design and limited mechanization make this system easy to operate and maintain, and the system does not require chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or heavy labor. In tandem with its technology appeal, aquaponics is attractive to youth who face staggering unemployment rates and have become disillusioned with farming.

In the years since, INMED has successfully created a steering committee of diverse partners and strong linkages to local farmers and technical institutions that support small farmers, such as CASE and RADA, banks and financing partners such as IDB and CDB, and worked with local and regional businesses, markets and purveyors to establish aquaponics as a viable new business model. INMED’s adaptive agriculture methodology, honed through years of experience and partnership building, is people-centered and oriented to building long-term sustainability and inclusivity.
INMED’s Aquaponics™ model combines a participatory grassroots approach with access to innovative climate-adaptive technology and builds a network connecting small-scale farmers with mentor farmers, Jamaican agricultural extension agents, aquaponic curricula, loans, businesses and markets.

It is this comprehensive community-based approach that addresses the current “syndemic” of climate change, malnutrition and obesity, providing farmers with the technology they need to produce a steady stream of fresh, nutritious produce, the tools they need to sustain their aquaponic crops and build marketable business skills and income, and the links to technical training, markets and loans, all while adapting to a climate that increasingly threatens conventional agriculture.
By working to increase inclusivity and connectivity across the market chain, INMED leverages our impact many times over: transforming the informal to the formal, the neighborly loan to the bank note, the farmer to the entrepreneur, the individual to the collective.

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.

INMED Aquaponics™ is already transforming lives in Jamaica, South Africa and Peru, reaching the most vulnerable with dramatic results. Associations of women and disabled farmers have increased their incomes many times over despite economic decline, high unemployment and climate change-related impacts. We are proud of our progress to date, including improvements in access to fresh, nutritious foods, education, links to markets and inclusivity, but our work is far from complete.

If we continue to build on the hard-fought gains we have made, INMED can help ensure that Jamaican lives are far more prosperous and food secure than they are today. Buoyed by a steady supply of locally-grown fresh produce, and supported through mentorship, hands-on and virtual trainings (including potentially AI-supported troubleshooting), the farmers of tomorrow will be the go-to source for Jamaica’s hotels, restaurants, schools, and communities’ locally-grown supply of fresh fish and produce.

Already, the market for local produce among Jamaican hotels alone is roughly $52 million annually, and there is growing interest in “farm-to-table” provisioning. INMED has strengthened aquaponic expertise, not just among farmers, but among CASE graduates, RADA agents, and students. The relationships we have developed with Jamaican lenders, government officials, and multilateral institutions are built on solid business plans, informed by international development, financial and agricultural experience. Equally important is the trust we have nurtured between different entities, especially in Jamaica, where small-holder farmers’ access to industry and loans has been fraught at best. Through our partnerships with the IDB, CDB and private banks, special loan packages have been developed for new INMED Aquaponics farmers. If we can capitalize on these gains, today’s youth will grow up to become farmers that are far more food-secure, healthy and economically self-sufficient than what is possible today.

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

INMED’s overarching vision is for inclusive, sustainable, healthy food production to meet the needs of a growing global population and increasingly fragile environment. INMED Aquaponics™ is inclusive, having demonstrated its success with youth, women, the disabled and other vulnerable groups. It utilizes substantially less water and energy than commercial farming and is far more productive while requiring no soil, far less space and physical labor. Its proven income-generation potential, especially for vulnerable populations, is a boon to small-scale farmers who have long been left out of the global economy.

Beginning with our bases in Jamaica, South Africa and Peru – and in Brazil beginning this year – countries especially vulnerable to climate change but representing the economic engines of their regions, combined with links to markets and financing, INMED aspires to scale its aquaponics innovation across regions and continents within the next 10 to 15 years. INMED’s use of “future-casting,” as applied to its aquaponics model, promotes community-based sustainable agriculture, fair distribution systems, and the climate-smart training and tools to end food insecurity, malnutrition and galvanize new educational and economic development opportunities for even the most vulnerable. INMED Aquaponics directly addresses the Food System Vision Prize’s six interconnected themes as outlined below:

Environment: The effects of climate change are evident on every continent, with impoverished communities bearing the brunt of rising temperatures and dwindling arable land. All of INMED's adaptive agriculture programs are designed to support preventive and mitigation measures to environmental damage and climate change. For building of the aquaponics systems, locally sourced and environmentally friendly materials are used, and where possible, use of recycled materials is also promoted. Aquaponics also eliminates the need for chemical inputs and tilling, therefore reducing soil erosion; protects water quality and reduces pressure on groundwater resources by using rainwater; and utilizes solar energy to power the system, minimizing the use of fossil fuel-generated electricity. INMED Aquaponics™ increases community resilience to climate change, builds capacity for effective climate change planning and mitigation and improves education and awareness for current and future generations. Because aquaponics produces more food in a smaller footprint, it also helps protect and restore deforested and contaminated land as well as preserve biodiversity. INMED works with communities, researchers, educators and students to promote the cultivation of native plant and fish species, their importance to the broader food chain and ecosystem, and how to deal with invasive species.

Diets: Aquaponics crops weigh more per unit, have a longer shelf life, and can command higher prices compared to soil-grown varieties. By using substantially less water, aquaponics can far surpass traditional farming production in times of drought, and save resources year-round, especially in low-resource areas such as degraded watershed areas in Jamaica. The INMED Aquaponics™ model can be designed in multiple sizes and configurations. Our base model commercial-scale aquaponic system requires a space of only 280m² and has an annual production capacity of about 8,000 kg of various greens (lettuce, herbs, etc), or 12,000 kg of fruiting plants such as tomatoes or peppers, and approximately 3,400 kg of fish. Our vision is one in which poor populations in low- and middle-income countries are able to access and afford nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, and protein-rich fish, providing the right amounts of macronutrients for health and well-being. The link between poor diet and poor health has been extensively documented, particularly in infancy and early childhood; conversely, as dietary quality increases, the incidence of related conditions, including stunting, anemia, high blood pressure and other preventable diseases will decrease, leading to a higher-quality life overall.

Economics: INMED Aquaponics offers exciting new opportunities to provide decent work and economic growth in Jamaica and other countries that have suffered high unemployment and disillusionment with farming in recent years amid climate change-related impacts. With each new project, partnership, and geographic context, INMED is able to adapt and hone its climate-smart approach, leading to higher harvest yields, greater access to fresh fish and produce, and improved food and economic security. Our work with an all-women's small-scale farming cooperative in Pella, an extremely impoverished rural community in the Northern Cape of South Africa hard-hit by climate change, is just one recent example. In an area with an 82% unemployment rate, the project generated full-time and part-time jobs, substantially increased the group’s average monthly income and led to the cooperative being named Best Subsistence Producer through the South Africa Department of Agriculture’s Female Entrepreneur Awards.

The target market for aquaponics-grown produce and fish includes the producers who establish aquaponics enterprises, as well as customers who buy the produce (including end users such as restaurants and market agents who consolidate). While there continues to be high demand for fresh produce and fish from local residents, greater demand and interest from national, formal markets represent an immediate opportunity for expansion. INMED will focus its market research and engagement on the large fresh produce markets in those cities, as well as major retailers, restaurants, hotels, and guesthouses. Lucrative niche markets will also be pursued, such as restaurants serving local, organic herbs, micro-greens and other high value crops. Another target market is the public sector, including local governments and national development agencies for feeding, nutrition and employment generation programs.

Since many government support programs and private sector institutions have mandates to fund emerging farmers, enabling participants to develop business plans will further allow them to approach such institutions to access additional capital and markets, and continue growing their businesses for decades to come. 

Culture: In Jamaica, as in many of INMED’s other focus countries, culture is inextricably linked to the natural world. Jamaica is known for its remarkable cuisine, which is strongly attributed to the Caribbean climate, island waterways, fruits, fish and vegetables, and stems from the collective ingenuity of the Taino as well as a host of other foodways. However, traditional foodways have been severely disrupted by climate change, displacement, mismanagement of natural resources, and barriers to fresh, nutritious food. We envision a future in which these foodways—and their strong connection Jamaican history and culture—have been effectively restored, deepening Jamaicans’ ties to the land and to each other.

Tech: There is a growing demand from government agencies for climate-smart technologies, which could change the landscape of food production. Thousands of small-scale farmers across the country can benefit from the aquaponics technology, and with government grants and/or agricultural loans, farmers will have even greater access to the technology. INMED is already working with an app developer to pilot the tracking of financial and production data in real time, thereby providing fully traceable transactions that give confidence to farmers, lenders and investors about performance, production yields and sales forecasts. This tool can also bridge the gap between informal and formal financial systems for thousands of small-scale farmers and allow groups to borrow as a community, giving them additional borrowing power while reducing risks to banks and other lenders. Through these kinds of partnerships, INMED’s stakeholders can unlock access to affordable credit, insurance and savings, empowering a new cohort of farmers to become fully self-sufficient entrepreneurs by addressing barriers to education, employment and financial resources.

Policy: A belief in the power of public-private partnerships inspired the founding of INMED Partnerships for Children 34 years ago, and we continue to view the sharing of new knowledge, research, and solutions between NGOs, government agencies (such as MEGJC and Ministries of Agriculture and Education), corporations, technical schools (such as CASE), and financial institutions (such as IDB and CDB) alike as essential to increasing our collective impact.

Throughout Jamaica, other geographic focus areas and across our programs, INMED partners with sponsors, foundations, regional governments, municipalities, financial institutions, schools, historically marginalized populations, and disabled peoples’ cooperatives, to solve some of the most difficult health and development challenges in struggling regions. In many cases, our work has enabled high-risk communities to avoid impending crisis as a result of climate change, endemic disease, and lack of adequate health care and education—and perhaps even more importantly, has served as a cornerstone of newly viable economic, educational, and employment opportunities. The Prize is the vital spark INMED needs to empower small-scale farming communities in Jamaica and beyond to become fully self-sustaining and put them onto the path to a prosperous and healthy future.  

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Photo of Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff

Yes! We are also inspired by aquaponics tech. I would like to learn more about your model! Can we connect? Dr. Kelly in Colorado with Perpetual Harvest, LLC.

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