The Caribbean has experienced climatic changes over the past few decades, and recent studies project that these changes will continue in the future. One study estimates that mean annual temperatures in the Caribbean will increase by between 1° and 5°C by the 2080s. Warming is projected to be greater in the north-west Caribbean territories (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica).
These changes in the region’s climatic conditions are predicted to adversely affect a number of key resources and economic sectors, including freshwater resources and agricultural systems.
Towards a Solution
Communities in Jamaica considered aquaponics as a possible solution to address these issues. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
"Aquaponics is the integration of recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics in one production system. In an aquaponic unit, water from the fish tank cycles through filters, plant grow beds and then back to the fish. In the filters, the fish waste is removed from the water, first using a mechanical filter that removes the solid waste and then through a biofilter that processes the dissolved wastes. The biofilter provides a location for bacteria to convert ammonia, which is toxic for fish, into nitrate, a more accessible nutrient for plants. This process is called nitrification. As the water (containing nitrate and other nutrients) travels through plant grow beds the plants uptake these nutrients, and finally, the water returns to the fish tank purified. This process allows the fish, plants, and bacteria to thrive symbiotically and to work together to create a healthy growing environment for each other, provided that the system is properly balanced".1
As such, this smart technology could address the climate-related challenges impacting food production and security, given the advantages of soil conservation, water recycling and the provision of organic nutrients from the fish to the plants.
With the support of the GEF Small Grants Programme, administered by the United Nations Development Programme, Jamaica participated in a South-South exchange to learn from practical experiences in sustainable aquaponic farming on both a small and commercial scale in Mexico. This initiative directly addressed how farmers in Jamaica could adapt technology to improve change climate adaptation with regard to extreme drought and rainfall conditions. It would also serve to diversify income and improve farming productivity as a whole.
The discussions, presentations and study tours focused on obtaining information about the partnerships that communities require in order to ensure sustainability. Participants also learned about the processes involved in setting up and maintaining a viable aquaponics farm and how communities can benefit from the varying products. In particular, they learned about the role of the Government in formulating the necessary policies and the role of academia in providing research. The experience was enriched through exchanges with Bofish Aquaponic farms, the National Autonomous University of Mexico and consultations with community members and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The good practices and innovations implemented by Bofish have resulted in significant growth and expansion for the business. Some of these innovations include the use of salt water to increase production and food security, as well as the infusion of biofloc technology with aquaponics to create more sustainable aquaculture through greater efficiency, production and environmental control. Additionally, the University demonstrated that snook, pompano, yellow snapper, octopus and shrimp could be bred as the aquaculture component for market consumption. It was also suggested that algae and small plankton could be produced to feed fish and shrimp in the larvae stage.
Following the mission, under the GEF Small Grants Programme, the University and Bofish agreed to support efforts in Jamaica to improve and expand aquaponics technology and further guide agricultural policy developments.
Since the exchange, the Environmental Health Foundation (EHF) in Jamaica has established four small-scale aquaponics systems in the rural parish of Clarendon. EHF is one of the country's leading NGOs and plays a key role in improving health, the environment and the education system. For over 26 years, the Foundation has managed over 40 major projects in Jamaica, with significant results that benefit children and vulnerable groups and communities.
EarthStrong is a women-led NGO that established the first commercial aquaponics system in Jamaica. The design and construction mitigate disaster and facilitate agritourism. The facility is equipped with cold storage to reduce waste from harvests, which contributes to food security, and runs exclusively on solar energy. The system requires up to one-quarter acre of land and has the potential to produce over 119,000 heads of lettuce and other leafy vegetables annually.
To date, both groups have established partnerships with various government agencies, including the Rural Agricultural Development Authority; the Jamaica Agricultural Society; and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE). These partnerships will assist in providing continuous oversight and technical support to farmers.
There is a growing cadre of aquaponics practitioners and influencers who are developing policies that will allow the Government to support farmers in adapting to and implementing aquaponics technology. Both the EHF and EarthStrong projects are currently demo sites. They are working on a manual and technical fact sheet to assist the targeted beneficiaries, particularly local farming communities that wish to become involved in aquaponics. The manual will be reviewed by the team in Mexico.
 FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 589