How One Company Is Boosting Caribbean Food Security Through Climate Resilient Greenhouse Systems


When Ralph Birkhoff relocated to the Caribbean 9 years in the past, from his native Toronto, it didn’t take him lengthy to recognise that agriculture and power had been two crucial areas that wanted to be improved inside the area. Birkhoff and accomplice, John Martin and a bunch of shareholders, co-founded Alquimi Renewables LLC, specializing in renewable power and guarded agriculture tasks developed particularly for island states which are susceptible to quite a lot of local weather threats. Alquimi operates its greenhouse farming operations underneath the Island Growers model.

“The Caribbean’s over-dependence on food imports is not sustainable,” says Birkhoff of the area’s $6 billion meals import invoice, of which almost a 3rd consists of contemporary produce, primarily from the United States.

“Arable land is extremely limited in most island states, and the climate conditions make traditional farming very challenging,” he continues. “High demand ‘cold weather’ crops like lettuces, leafy greens, and berry fruits just don’t grow well here to begin with, and certainly cannot be grown all year round. Even if the farm does get enough rain to produce a harvest, local farmers can still lose their entire crop through a hurricane, floods, or pestilence.”

While many agricultural companies are working with native farmers to provide greater yields by varied local weather sensible variations, soil-based farm provide has been difficult for a lot of farmers on account of an inherently import-reliant provide chain.

While native produce, together with quite a lot of root greens and tropical fruits are usually obtainable, companies have continued to depend on imported produce for his or her wants, notably on account of considerations surrounding high quality and consistency.

Alquimi’s options are underscored by the idea that local weather protected agriculture holds the important thing to greater yields of higher high quality meals. Birkhoff believes that, whereas greenhouse methods aren’t a novel idea within the area, outcomes have been lower than beneficial as a result of blanket replica of design and manufacturing options from markets that don’t share the identical realities because the Caribbean.

Alquimi’s IAT/Sprung greenhouse methods are engineered to satisfy the very best ASCE and IBC constructing … [+] codes on the earth.

Ralph Birkhoff

“The Caribbean and other tropical and sub-tropical islands have been home to greenhouse and hydroponic farms cultivating specialty horticultural crops for decades now,” says Aquimi’s Master Grower, Joseph ‘JC’ Chidiac. “Most of these farms have either failed to survive or scale up to meet demand due to extreme environmental conditions and the need for high efficiency to maximise price competitiveness against produce imports. Hurricanes have laid waste to hundreds of inadequate greenhouse structures. Until now, tropical heat and humidity have made environmental control virtually impossible, and inefficient cultivation systems have increased the cost of growing food to impractical levels.”

From the outset, Birkhoff and his companions knew that to ensure that a greenhouse resolution to be price efficient, it might require the capability to resist probably the most excessive climate occasions— together with a class 5 hurricane.

Alquimi and its expertise entity, Island AgTech partnered with Canadian-based Sprung Structures Ltd., an engineering and manufacturing firm specialising in burdened membrane engineering. “Sprung has delivered thousands of structures in over 90 countries, many of them in hurricane and typhoon locations, so when we explained what we needed they came through for us.”

Aquimi’s IAT/Sprung greenhouse methods are engineered to satisfy the very best ASCE and IBC constructing codes on the earth. They are engineer-certified to 175 mph sustained wind load (and gusts to 200mph) and are earthquake resistant, flood resistant, corrosion resistant, naturally aspirated, and supply the power to customize to any native micro-climates— a stage of power that Birkhoff believes makes it the strongest greenhouse system on the earth, safeguarded with a 50-year structural assure. Extreme climate problem solved.

“Once we met the need for stronger greenhouses, we needed to create greater assurance around yields,” Birkhoff follows. “To achieve this, we integrated the most proven and cost effective high yield sub-tropical hydroponic system that is both energy and water efficient.”

According to Birkhoff, the greenhouse system could be operational inside 30 days, with first harvests of leafy inexperienced crops popping out about 26-days later. Island Growers farms will probably be USDA Organic Certified with produce licensed by GlobalGap. Produce will meet all GFSI, GlobalGap, and SQX meals high quality scores that many business patrons throughout the area require, thus creating a possibility for intra-regional commerce. Island Growers has additionally launched a resort greenhouse advertising and marketing program to facilitate the movement of produce to the tourism sector.


Inside an Alquimi greenhouse

Ralph Birkhoff

Alquimi’s mission is for Caribbean farms to develop significantly in scale and variety to the purpose at which they’ll increase native farming of indigenous crops and finally have the capability to substitute imports.

“Local farmers do an incredibly good job of growing many varieties of indigenous crops that are delicious and high in nutrient content. We see our role as filling the gaps presented by small size, limited arable land, the need for greater crop diversity and climate resilience, in the context of extreme environmental vulnerability. These are the main challenges that need to be overcome to build Caribbean food security in the years to come.”

The excessive impression, excessive infrastructure, hi-tech nature of Alquimi’s tasks has required vital funding.  The firm has partnered with a number of personal fairness traders and current meals trade corporations to get its first tasks off the bottom and expects the scope of the funding alternative to exceed $250 million over the following few years.

The firm has not too long ago secured enlargement debt financing by Republic Bank Investment Group, headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago, which can present $three million Phase 2 financing for every undertaking throughout the area and Guardian Group, additionally positioned in Trinidad and Tobago, has agreed to insure all the firm’s greenhouse farm tasks. This is the primary time that the Guardian Group has insured greenhouse farms within the Caribbean.

Alquimi is presently within the strategy of launching its first farm operations in Anguilla, Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico, with greater than 10 different island tasks able to launch within the coming 12 months.

Island Growers has additionally partnered with an area grocery store in Anguilla that will probably be buying all of its Phase 1 manufacturing with the target of opening the primary ‘all organic’ produce sections in its two shops. This is the primary ‘all organic’ produce part in an Anguilla grocery store and one of many first within the area.

At the time that this text was being written, Birkhoff was overseeing socially distanced greenhouse implementations, amidst elections in his dwelling nation of Anguilla, whereas working with plenty of regional agriculture stakeholders to instantly help a brand new regional agricultural implementation plan that will probably be offered to CARICOM Heads of State and Agriculture Ministers, to construct regional meals safety.

“If we can achieve this during a pandemic, during an election and during hurricane season, we can do anything,” he laughs.