Imagine a farm that occupies a relatively small portion of land, but from which you can obtain fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish, and which uses organic fertilizers and renewable energy to keep it going.
The farm, located in Baird’s Village, St George, was the brainchild of Damien Hinkson, who joined forces with seven other farmers to get it going. “I started aquaponics personally around 2002, and it was in 2009 [that] I met with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), [which] funded this particular project and we went from there.”
National Coordinator of the UNDP’s Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme, David Bynoe, said “This project was funded in stages, with the first stage costing some US$50,000. That covered doing the research to get the system set up and making it work. Then in the second stage, we put the solar energy equipment in place to make it a stand-alone system not dependent on fossil fuel.”
Hinkson described the inter-connected nature of the farming activity, noting that everything was organic and renewable. In terms of the fish, he said “Right now we have tilapia and catfish. We get them sold, but not as quickly as we would like, so we are changing over to aquarium type fish. The waste from the fish tanks, which is 80% liquid, comes in and fertilizes the soil.
“We are trying out different crops, including fruit trees, eggplant, chives, onions, parsley, butternut squash, citrus fruits, and we also have watermelons, beets and okras. We research everything here, and as a result, we have embarked on companion planting, where we plant two different crops in one bed since we found that it acts as a pest deterrent. We also have a mix of sargassum seaweed and molasses that we use as a fertilizer on our plants.”
On that score, Bynoe noted that the Baird’s Village consortium had sourced a local plant that kept the pH levels in the water perfectly balanced. He recalled “I was in Aruba recently where the farmers were having major difficulty in balancing their pH levels, and they were using chemicals. I am glad to see that these farmers found a natural method, and in fact, this project is so well recognized that it has been featured on Al-Jazeera television and the farmers get correspondence from all over the world from people who want to use these techniques on their farms.”
The entire system is run via photo-voltaic panels, and Hinkson noted anyone wishing to establish such a system will shortly be able to do so. “We have just built some kits for those who want to set up similar facilities. We have a prototype of the aquaponic machine, which will come with a solar panel pump and everything else you need. It’s a “plug and play” system; all you will have to do is add water and fish.”
Meanwhile, Bynoe commended the Baird’s Village farmers for using sargassum seaweed in their project. Since that seaweed is in abundance once again along the island’s coastline, he advised, “The Small Grants Programme is willing to fund any Non-Governmental Organisation or entrepreneur who wants to start any project utilizing sargassum seaweed. We did such a programme in St. Lucia recently and it was very successful, so we are calling on Barbadians to put this seaweed to good use.” (DH)