Green-tech: Caribbean soilless solutions boost smart production

To overcome production challenges associated with climate variability in Barbados and St Lucia, young entrepreneurs are using hydro- and aquaponic technology to control the cropping environment.

Using aquaponics, Green Haven Fresh Farm produces 1.8 t of lettuce every month © Green Haven Fresh Farm

Creative technological solutions are being developed to transform traditional methods of crop production and help to achieve food security in the Caribbean. In Barbados, hydroponic farm Ino-Gro Inc, for example, is using a 12 m shipping container with vertical towers to grow leafy green vegetables. Through a fully automated, online system, the growing environment can be monitored and controlled (i.e. temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and lighting) using a smartphone app.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants indoors, using nutrient solutions instead of soil. Energy-efficient LEDs provide optimum light and the closed loop irrigation system uses 85% less water than traditional outdoor systems. “Technology has been the main driver of change in most industries, and agriculture is no different,” says 23-year-old Warren Kellman, one of the Ino-Gro Inc managing directors.

The towers can grow around 2,500 plants at any given time, allowing high-density farming in a relatively small area. As the farm is mobile, produce can also easily be transported to buyers, such as restaurants and supermarkets, within hours of harvest. According to Kellman, the container is equivalent to nearly 0.5 ha of farmland and produces around 40 kg of produce a week, including three different types of lettuce, mint, basil and edible flowers. Demand is high and the produce sells out every week. “When we started, we wanted to find a way to make money but also do something good. We import too much. The population of the Caribbean is only going to grow and we need to find more sustainable ways to produce enough food,” Kellman explains.

In St Lucia, a local aquaponics facility is being touted by agricultural ministers in Antigua and Barbuda as a model for the rest of region to replicate, due to its highly efficient use of space for economic food production. Green Haven Fresh Farm – an organic farm which specialises in integrated vegetable, tilapia and shrimp cultivation – has 10 vertical vegetable beds and four fish tanks built above each other, and is supported by an 80,000-gallon solar-powered rainwater harvesting system. Lights on automatic timers and circulatory fans are also used to control the growing area and maximise production. The organic aquaponic system, which was established in 2016, produces 1.8 t of lettuce each month and 7.25 t of tilapia annually. In 2017, 37-year-old managing director, Jameson Alphonse, received the Prime Minister’s Award for Innovation, as well as the Green Award for Energy Conservation and Idea of the Year Award.

Sophie Reeve & Natalie Dookie

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.