In a region routinely slammed by severe tropical storms, an island on its knees searches for a permanent solution to its food crisis
Located in the equatorial region within the Caribbean Sea, the island of Puerto Rico is a lush, tropical paradise with plentiful, naturally occurring food sources. But with this rich natural heritage, abundant fresh water, and a population of seasoned farmers ready and willing to work, why does agriculture suffer so terribly here?
Why does Puerto Rico import 90% of its fresh produce needs in order to feed its population?
One answer: hurricane damage.
Puerto Rico lies on a collision course with the hurricanes and tropical cyclones that, every June through to November, spin off the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, leaving the island in a constant state of rehabilitation.
Then, in September 2017, a hurricane of mammoth intensity made landfall on the tiny Caribbean island, laying total and utter waste to hectare upon hectare of farmlands and orchards, while also killing 5,000 people and leaving the island without power for months in some places. Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster on record to affect Puerto Rico, which, to this day, struggles to get back on its feet. The effects it had on the island’s food sovereignty – on its ability to produce the necessary fresh produce to feed its people – was near fatal.
Storm damage in Humacao, Puerto Rico. Source: www.Gizmodo.com
Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 storm with wind speeds in excess of 175 miles per hour. Yet, even less intense storms rain down extensive destruction: torrential downpours, storm surge flooding, lightning strikes, high wind speeds, and more. With time, investment, and respite, the island of Puerto Rico could rebuild itself, its farmlands, and its ailing economy… but recovery from the past does not ensure security for the future.
In a tropical region in which hurricanes are a certainty, a permanent solution is required.
But how can you protect farms from hurricanes?
Aquaponics: Innovative Farming Technique
On Puerto Rico, there are hundreds of abandoned, government-owned concrete warehouses, some of which were built in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Their sturdy build has ensured their survival, even against the ravages of Category 5 storms. What this spells for the team at Fusion Farms are two things:
(1) The potential indoor space to establish a greenhouse for growing fresh produce, and
(2) One that is hurricane protected and sheltered from damaging winds and excessive rainfall.
Not even Hurricane Maria could fell these concrete warehouses and so they are a proven, hurricane protected venue for indoor farming.
The logic doesn’t end there, though. A more potent and productive farming technique called aquaponics combines hydroponics (indoor, climate-controlled agriculture) and aquaculture (fish farming) to set up a looped system that produces both fresh fruits and vegetables and a source of lean protein: fish.
Tilapia: the freshwater fish that will be used in Fusion Farm’s aquaponic facility. Source: www.Pixabay.com
The solution proposed by Fusion Farms sees the hydroponics portion of the farm housed within the concrete warehouse, where it cannot be affected by high winds or excessive rainfall, while the aquaponics portion – the fish farm – will be built underground in circular ponds with a high margin to insure against flooding. Both systems will be carefully controlled by the team at Fusion Farms so that they are sheltered from nature’s fury, as well as outside influences to protect the lifecycle of the farm.
Additionally, the energy required to run the farm will be sourced from solar panels and supplemented by wind turbines, so in the event that the power is cut, the farm can remain productive.
Re-establishing Puerto Rico’s Food Sovereignty
On an island that is located on a well-worn hurricane path, it is essential to start building farms that can withstand severe storms. It is essential if Puerto Rico is to produce a reliable, fresh, non-GMO, and 100% pesticide-free source of fruits, vegetables, and protein for its people. Fusion Farms is one of the first organizations to step forward and not only propose this solution but attempt to source the funding to convert a series of abandoned warehouses into hurricane protected controlled aquaponics environments.
The goal is to re-establish Puerto Rico’s food sovereignty and ensure that its population is fed and its farmers have work, even in the event of another natural disaster.