Saline agriculture on Bonaire

We have just returned from a successful field visit to Bonaire. Together with various stakeholders, we looked at the opportunities to help farmers use saline agricultural methods. We received many positive reactions to our solution. Saline agriculture offers a great opportunity for Bonaire to improve their food security and their rural economy!

Background

Bonaire, an island that is part of the Dutch Caribbean, is largely affected by its harsh climate conditions. Due to the semi-arid climate and shortage of water only crops such as Aloe Vera, cacti and various cattle fodder crops such as Buffalo grass are cultivated right now. Even the cultivation of these crops has come under threat in recent years, due to the increase in soil salinity.

Moreover, the warning of sea level rise as a result of climate change adds further challenge to the agriculture practices on Bonaire. Because of this, a major part of Bonaire’s food and cattle fodder is being imported resulting in a high cost of living. Furthermore, farmers in Bonaire lose their income, resulting in an unsustainable economy especially in the rural areas of the island.

Our press release published in a local newspaper (feb 2019)

Opportunity for Saline agriculture

Sorghum can be grown all year around

Back in 2015, we went on a scoping mission together with other organisations such as Wageningen University and Meromar Seafoods B.V. headed by the then State Secretary of the Dutch Ministry of Economic affair - Sharon Dijksma. During the mission, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the OLB to stimulate cultivation of vegetables with brackish water by setting up expertise and testing centres on Bonaire.

Since the mission in 2015, we were approached by several farmers and agricultural organisation to help them grow crops in salt and drought-affected areas. Last month, we went back to Bonaire to help the local farmers test their soil and water. We found the brackish water resources to be of adequate quality and conducive to practice saline agriculture methods. This means that there is more (brackish) water available for growing crops such as sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, chard and carrots.

Sorghum, for example, can be grown all year round instead only during the rainy season. We want to help farmers to grow crops which we have tested to be salt tolerant on Bonaire and also focus on getting local data for our knowledge centre. This could be a fantastic opportunity for the farmers and the rural economy of Bonaire.

Spreading awareness

In parallel, we had our press release published in local newspapers and had three television interviews taken. A broadcasted interview on the local NOS TV Channel received a lot of positive reactions which resulted in several meetings on the last days of our trip. There will also be a longer broadcast on a local television channel this month, which we hope will make more people on Bonaire aware of saline agriculture and it’s possibilities.

Time for action:

We are convinced that saline agriculture can create great opportunities for Bonaire. It is important that we start growing crops with brackish water so that more food becomes available for the local population and at lower prices than imported produces. We have now set up a small team representing the Salt Farm Foundation which continues the conversation with the farmers and various stakeholders on Bonaire, in order to successfully implement saline agriculture methods on Bonaire!