As Jamaica gears up for a drier than normal rain pattern this year, the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) has opened a new aquaponics unit to train and sustainably provide vegetables and meat to its various stakeholders.

The medium-size aquaponics unit forms part of the college’s Jamaica Adaptive Agriculture Program and will serve approximately 200 CASE outreach farmers island-wide and 215 CASE students annually.

Start-up costs for the climate-smart agriculture technology, its construction, water catchment facility, solar power technology, greenhouse, nursery as well as operational, training and technical assistance to operate the unit were financed by the Sandals Foundation at just over US$40,000.

Garth Scott, one of the Research and Outreach Coordinators at the college, said the unit will further sensitize the school’s stakeholders on environmentally friendly and rewarding practices.

“The unit has the capacity to grow approximately 4,000 food fish and 5,000 pounds of a variety of leafy vegetable every year despite the limited projection for rains. These kinds of output bear as a shining example to 4H clubbites doing on-site training, approximately 1,000 students who tour the campus annually and to local farmers who frequent the campus looking for appropriate technology for their farms.”

A secondary benefit, Markland Murphy, Projects’ Director at CASE noted, “will be the ability of the college to develop and operate business enterprises as part of our college’s enterprise development program.”

The aquaponics program will also assist the college in providing healthier meals to its 800 students on campus and 200 staff members.

Heidi Clarke, Executive Director at the Sandals Foundation, said the project is also well poised to train new and old farmers in more sustainable methods in order to secure food sources.

“By having a steady supply of produce that are not impacted by drought, local industries like tourism, businesses and restaurants can continue to purchase locally and provide for their clientele. Communities are stronger when they are able to provide for their needs, feed themselves and steer their own economic trajectory. Incorporating climate-smart agricultural technologies are therefore also an active means of building resilient people and communities that can stand the test of these changing times.”

Portland has traditionally been identified as a wet parish, but in recent years has seen progressively less rainfall. In 2019, the parish was identified by the National Water Commission as one of the parishes most sincerely impacted by drought and the reduction in surface water.

Not only were the usual dry months drier than normal, reports indicated that the rainfall expected during April and May did not materialize.

Aquaponics is a sustainable method of raising both fish and vegetables allowing for substantially growing more food with less water, land and labour than traditional agriculture.