A high-tech farming project is set to kick-off early next year that could slash demand for imported vegetables by over 80 per cent.
The Government project to be set up in the new year, comes as a private firm owned by young farmers uses technology in an agricultural project that is intend to eventually feed the entire country while withstanding the threat of natural disasters, said Agriculture Minister Indar Weir.
Operating out of a 40-foot shipping container at Hastings, Christ Church, the directors of Ino Grow have developed a hydroponic farm, which currently produces lettuce, herbs and other leafy greens.
The company is producing non-genetically modified organisms (non-GMO) and herbicide-free crops, which can be grown every day of the year.
After a tour of the small facility, an excited minister for food security revealed the project had won the support of Government. Weir has invited Ino Gro directors Warren Kellman and Rishi Pajwani to be part of a similar programme, to be rolled out by Government at the beginning of the New Year.
“We are going to get together and we’re going to pull all of the costing together… and take agriculture to the next level. But more importantly, we need the scale,” said Weir.
Government’s ultimate goal is to produce almost 80 to 90 per cent of some of the vegetables currently being imported, Weir declared.
“I speak of tomatoes and lettuce of all varieties, and then we are going to look at broccoli as well, because broccoli is one of the vegetables that we import and we have to address that. If I am able to pull all of this together in short time, we then start looking at reducing our food import bill,” he said.
Amid the worldwide threat of global warming, Weir praised the new technology for responding to the growing need for “climate-smart” initiatives.
“We have to look at what climate change is doing to the Caribbean islands and indeed Barbados is vulnerable to climate change and if we’re going to get into climate smart agriculture, then this is the way we have to go,” according to the agriculture and food security minister.
“So that if we get a climate event, we don’t find ourselves without food for extended periods of time . . . . We have to be able to protect the amount of food that we are going to need to get through a climate event. We have to protect the seedlings to make sure that we have them at our disposal so that we can continue to grow,” he stressed, while indicating that the use of green energy will also be key to the development of similar initiatives.
Weir is particularly excited about the promise of climate smart agriculture for youth. “It excites the younger mind; those people who are coming out of school, who would have traditionally stayed away from agriculture, because they didn’t see it as a career option. But if we could replicate this right across Barbados, all of a sudden we are addressing a 21st century need, where we can create entrepreneurs, through having young people now graduating from university and getting involved in projects like these as businesspeople,” he said.
Ino-Gro co-director Rishi Pajwani thanked Weir for giving them a platform to show off the young farm initiatives. He also assured Barbadians that his company is up to the task of reducing the country’s “enormous” food import bill.
“We wanted to cut that down as well as educate the youth here in Barbados about agriculture – Traditional agriculture. Agriculture is no longer outside, hot sun and breaking your back. It’s now become labour efficient and easy, so we wanted to inform everyone and the youth to re-innovate the industry and get back into agriculture, because this is where Barbados was born,” said Pajwani.
But the new private sector initiative has not come without obstacles. As co-director Warren Kellman put it, the idea was so peculiar to Customs officials that they were sceptical when equipment started coming in.
“Customs had never seen something like that before. So when they saw certain pieces of equipment . . . they said they’ve never seen something like this attached to farming. We had to work closely with Customs as well, and actually create new entries in their system, so that people who are interested in this type of innovative farming, when they do bring in systems like this in the future, they wouldn’t face issues that we faced, because we tried to pave the way,” he said.
Making the process easier is the knowledge that they have the backing of Government in their quest to revolutionise Barbadian farming, Kellman said.