Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Thirty-two mobile hydroponic vertical farms, known as Flex Farms, are set to improve the climate resilience of three Caribbean nations, with intent for further expansion throughout the region. This initiative forms part of a pioneering pilot project focusing on climate-smart agriculture, food security, and education.

With backing from the Sony Music Global Social Justice Fund, the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator (CCSA) collaborated with Wisconsin-based agriculture technology company, Fork Farms to grant 25 indoor systems to the Cayman Islands, five systems to Anguilla and two units to Barbados.

Racquel Moses, Chief Executive Officer of the CCSA, says that the original motive behind the project was to create equity— to help level the food production playing field for the climate vulnerable Caribbean region.

“When we embarked upon this initiative with Sony Music Global Social Justice Fund it was an issue of climate justice,” says Moses. “We decided that producing more of our own food was a matter of justice and national security.”

According to Fork Farms, Flex Farms represent the pinnacle of hydroponic technology, offering unrivaled efficiency, scalability, and transformation. The systems possess the extraordinary capacity to yield more than 25 pounds of fresh leafy greens, a staggering 45 times greater output compared to traditional methods, all within a remarkably short 28-day timeframe.

A Flex Farm Unit with growing greens

Fork Farms

The small footprint of the system is one of the features that makes it particularly fitting to the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean. While relying on traditional energy sources, the closed-loop system with 288 plant spaces that recirculates nutrients and water, requires 40% less electricity than other hydroponic technologies. Each 10 square foot unit utilizes 98% less water and land and provides the sustainability of direct farm-to-table consumption with no requirement for chemical inputs such as pesticides and herbicides.

This initiative comes during one of the hottest periods on record for the climate vulnerable region. Drastic temperature increases have diminished crop yields and are expected to lead to more pests, erosion changes, increased weed growth, declining crop quality, and potential crop failures.

Barbados currently ranks as one of the world’s most water-stressed nations, with forecasts of rising sea levels and shifting precipitation patterns, painting a bleak picture for the country’s future water resources. During the period from June to August 2023, Barbados experienced a mean temperature anomaly that was 0.8 degrees Celsius above the typical range with 87 days of heightened heat during this period.

Water scarcity and extreme heat also pose a threat to the Cayman Islands, with average annual air temperatures having increased by approximately 2.2 °C over the past 40 years. Global Climate Models project 11% less total rainfall per year under the most severe climate change scenario. The Cayman Islands is also highly vulnerable to extreme weather events. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed 90-95% of crops across Grand Cayman, the country’s largest island.

Anguilla is a low-lying Caribbean island with a relatively flat terrain that makes it particularly … [+] susceptible to rising sea levels and storm surges, and like other Caribbean islands, it is located in a region prone to hurricanes and tropical storms.

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Like its neighbors, Anguilla is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In 2017, the 35 square mile British Overseas Territory was hit by Category 5 Hurricane Irma, causing widespread destruction. With its relatively flat terrain, Anguilla is vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges, and as a water scarce country, it is highly dependent on rain and water storage for its water supply. From the perspective of increasing temperatures, the Caribbean Regional Climate Centre predicts that extreme heat events in Anguilla could become a nearly year-long occurrence by the 2040s.

In a region with limited water resources, that is heavily reliant on rainfall for irrigation— with 70% of water being allocated for agricultural purposes— Flex Farms have the potential to play a role in mitigating some of the adverse impacts of enduring high temperatures.

A Flex Farm growing bok choy at Walkers Institute for Regenerative Research, Education and Design … [+] (WIRRED) in Barbados

Walkers Institute for Regenerative Research, Education and Design

In addition to the units’ potential to improve climate resilience, and food security, the educational potential of the project— as supported by a turnkey curriculum, learning packages and digital modules— holds great promise for the future of climate smart agriculture in the Caribbean.

In Barbados, two units were provided directly to the Walkers Institute for Regenerative Research, Education and Design (WIRRED)— the largest regenerative project of its kind in the Caribbean, which sits on the restored lands of a former sand quarry on the northern coast of the island.

The government of the Cayman Islands received twenty-five Flex Farms, three of which have been allocated to high schools to facilitate agricultural training. Two of the systems will be housed at Beacon Farms, a rehabilitation facility for individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, as part of a skills training initiative to advance agricultural literacy in the Cayman Islands. And an additional twenty Flex Farms have been ordered for installation in the country’s primary schools.

Sasha Appleby and Sandy Urquhart of Beacon Farms with Jay Ebanks, Cayman Islands Minister of … [+] Planning, Agriculture, Housing & Infrastructure (PAHI) and Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, Minister of Education with PAHI Chief Officer Eric Bush, Deputy Chief Officer Leyda Nicholson-Makasare and Senior Policy Advisor Demoy Nash

Beacon Farms

Johany Ebanks, Cayman’s Minister of Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure indicates that the pilot project “has come at a time when we are expanding and modernizing our Agricultural Sector. The equipment received will augment this great work that has started as we continue to bolster the food and nutrition security efforts of the Cayman Islands.”

In Anguilla, the the Department of Natural Resources (DNaR) has allocated five units to public schools that operate feeding programs, where students and staff will not only enjoy the fresh produce from the Flex Farm but also gain valuable educational experiences in various fields, including STEM, nutrition, agriculture, sustainability, and health.

Among the educational institutions that will benefit from the program are a school that caters to students with behavioral challenges, a secondary school hands-on learning program, and a rehabilitation centre for juvenile offenders.

Through the integration of the Flex Farm units, Caribbean nations have the opportunity to bolster agricultural productivity, adapt to the challenges posed by climate change, and secure a sustainable, long-term food supply for their communities in the face of increasing climate threats.

The initiative will also offer practical learning and firsthand experience in the realms of entrepreneurship, agriculture, nutrition, and science— providing an opportunity to grow the agricultural labour force in the region.

Racquel Moses, CEO of the CCSA, says that the results to date have been very promising.

Racquel Moses, Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator

Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator

“In a region where we are inundated with losses due to storms, facing erosion of our land, heat waves, droughts, flooding, changing weather patterns, and the various impacts of climate change, there is no more urgent issue than our food security,” says Moses.

“Caribbean nations are increasingly challenged by the carbon in the atmosphere that continues to produce wealth that we do not have access to. Our only option, and salient opportunity, is to innovate our way out of this predicament by finding increasingly creative methods of producing more of our food while reducing our imports.”

The CCSA envisions extending the project to additional nations and invites individuals, organizations, and stakeholders to come together in their efforts to champion food security, sustainability, and social inclusion throughout the Caribbean.

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