Aquaponics to the rescue
Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator
WESTERN BUREAU:Several community groups and schools across western Jamaica have been benefiting from aquaponics systems and technical training under the Jamaica Adaptive Agricultural Programme (JAAP), an initiative of INMED Caribbean, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
According to project director of INMED Caribbean, Paul Barrett, the JAAP, which began in 2010, focuses on climate change adaptation, specifically, the raising of awareness of climate change impact among farmers and other stakeholders. Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (soil-less crop production).
"What INMED does is to implement the project itself. We presented to the stakeholders - namely farmers, fisherfolk, and select schools with a history or tradition in agriculture - aquaponics systems that use simple technology. It's called an ebb and flow system and uses gravel as the medium in which plants are grown. The fish that we use is tilapia because it's a hardy fish and is already here in Jamaica," Barrett, an ex-Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard officer, told Western Focus during a business planning and marketing workshop for aquaponics farmers staged by INMED at the Knockalva Agricultural School last week Thursday.
The JAAP workshop series covers climate-change adaptation, running an aquaponics system, nursery management, feeding and harvesting fish, food safety, and packaging.
A total of 13 INMED-created aquaponics units are in operation or under construction across the island, but most are located in western Jamaica. The three in Westmoreland are operated by the Belmont Academy, the Bluefields Bay Friendly Cooperative Society, and the Westmoreland Organic Farmers' Association in Cave.
The Knockalva Agricultural School in Hanover has the distinction of operating the first modular aquaponics-system under the JAAP, which was commissioned in May 2012. The system is the only one of its kind in the parish, and according to the school, has been the most productive of all its agricultural methods of production. The school has subsequently started offering an aquaponics practicum to its students.
There is a multi-modular system under construction at Mafoota in St James, while there are four in Trelawny - one each at Dromily, Friendship, Bunkers Hill, and the Cedric Titus High School. Outside of western Jamaica, there is one at Dinthill. There are two in St Ann, one run by Youth in Action in Moneague and another by Jacobs Ladder, and one under construction at the Metcalfe Juvenile Remand Centre in Kingston.
"The geographic areas were selected based on climate-change risks," Barrett said. "Knowing of our fish stock depletion in Bluefields Bay, where there is a fish sanctuary, we thought that would have been a good location to go. Other areas were selected based on their proximity to the Cockpit Country - one of the premier areas in Jamaica for protection based on the flora and fauna there and the water that it provides to the lower basins - and so the farmers in the west, in direct relationship with cooperatives, school groups, or fisher groups, were directly engaged," he added.
HERBS WILL DO WELL
Barrett said based on observation and scientific tests done over the last three years, exotic herbs and spices tend to do exceptionally well within the aquaponics system. He said aquaponics farming also has numerous advantages over traditional farming.
"There is no lack of nutrients reaching the plants. The system is easy to monitor and manage. It is not labour intensive. If you do a one-hour walk-through three times per day through your system to feed your fish, it is more than sufficient. There are times when you will need more than one person like when you are planting, harvesting, or packaging," he said.
"Aquaponics systems are resilient to floods, hurricanes, and drought. They are made from concrete, and so there is some amount of durability. They are self-sufficient and use 90 per cent less water than everywhere else and maybe 75 per cent less energy than machines. It does not use any chemicals in the system, so you don't harm the fish or the plants. They take up far less space and they are very productive," he added.
A report from the Belmont Academy noted that their aquaponics system produces 20 pounds of escallions every three weeks in a 48-square-foot space, which the school now sells at a nearby hotel. Comparatively, the traditional land plot at the school produces just three pounds of scallion every six weeks in 320 square feet of space.
Robert Dehaney, public relations officer for the Cambridge Development Area Committee, who was in attendance at the workshop, told Western Focus he was confident aquaponics could alleviate youth unemployment in St James.
"It is the best opportunity in the region for youths. Young people love to sit by the side (of the road) idle. They don't like the jobs where they go from eight to four. So with an aquaponics system, they can work for about four hours and the rest of the day they have idle. And then you have a good income at the end of the month," he said.
He was supported by Patricia Parchment of the Westmoreland Organic Farmers' Society.
"It will attract young people because the young people don't like the rigorous outdoor farming ... working in the sun, and so. They love their money to turn around more quickly," she said.