BAR­BA­DOS GOV­ERN­MENT TO START AG-TECH VEG­GIE PROJECT ‘EARLY THIS YEAR’

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION -

Ahigh-tech farm­ing project is set to kick-off early this year that could slash de­mand for im­ported veg­eta­bles by over 80 per cent.

The gov­ern­ment project comes as a pri­vate firm owned by young farm­ers uses tech­nol­ogy in an agri­cul­tural project that is in­tended 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 early 2019.

“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.

Ino-Gro Inc. uses high-den­sity ver­ti­cal farm­ing techniques cou­pled with au­toma­tion and re­mote mon­i­tor­ing soft­ware to cre­ate a cli­mate-smart food pro­duc­tion sys­tem.

“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 “cli­mates­mart” 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’d 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.

“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

Ino-Gro Inc. uses high-den­sity ver­ti­cal farm­ing techniques cou­pled with au­toma­tion and re­mote mon­i­tor­ing soft­ware to cre­ate a cli­mate-smart food pro­duc­tion sys­tem

Min­is­ter In­dar Weir (right) un­der the ar­ti­fi­cial sun­light pro­vided by the agri­cul­tural farm, be­ing schooled by Ino Gro co-di­rec­tors Rishi Pa­jwani (left) and War­ren Kellman (sec­ond right) as men­tor Ayub Kola looks on

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