A think tank consisting of young professionals originally from one of the six islands is advising the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality (LNV) about the policies that are being developed and implemented on Bonaire, Saba, and Statia. These Caribbean young professionals were all born and raised on one of the six islands and are currently either studying or working in The Netherlands, but will always feel connected to the developments back home. The educational foundation WeConnect brings them together and connects them to the ministry in The Hague. Last week the group had their second meeting.
The think tank is led by Gilberto Morishaw, a Public Administration student from Curaçao. The group has been brainstorming for a few months in specialized subgroups, tackling questions such as; how can the islands become more self-sufficient and how can we enthuse the local population to grow their own produce? What are the obstacles that we need to overcome in order to further develop the three agricultural areas on Bonaire? How can we manage the problem regarding the free roaming donkeys and goats that cause to land to erode? The think tankers come up with practical and creative solutions for these issues. “These young Antillians and Arubans have a lot to offer because they know the islands, the mentality, and the circumstances; they are realistic but don’t let any hurdles slow them down when coming up with solutions” says Tanja Fraai, the manager at WeConnect, after a series of powerful presentations.
One group is focusing on education and how it can relate to agriculture, nature, and food; the proposal includes a plan to involve students that are having a difficult time with their studies. The plan is to teach and train them in modern farming technologies such as hydroponics and aquaponics, which allows vegetables to grow in just water instead of in the ground [as a workaround to the issue of inarable land]. A hydroponics farm on Saba is opening its doors this year, with the intention of later expanding this initiative to Bonaire with the help of the local government. “There’s no point in simply building greenhouses on the islands; we have to work together with the local population so they can warm up to the idea” says Robert Rosa, an entrepreneur from Curaçao who is involved in many projects, including direct air capture that utilizes the CO2 in the air for food and energy production. A new Green study programme is being developed on Bonaire at secondary vocational education (MBO) levels 1 and 2. The importance of education and training for all age groups is essential.
A research-team from Wageningen University presented their AlgaePARC project, a profitable method to produce microalgae on a large-scale as material to produce food, animal-feed, fuel and chemicals. The Bonairean Rocca Chin-On will be heading to Bonaire to continue her research there and consequently will be obtaining her PHD based on this topic. Medicine student Yannick Frans and hydrology student Bart ter Mull made an impression with their solution that proposes the capture of rainwater capture for agricultural use. Promovendus Stacey Mac Donald spoke about the success of her Piskabon project on Bonaire; a fishery cooperative with the goals of making the fishery industry more sustainable. Her organization, Mac & Field is currently working on reforesting in Statia after hurricane Irma destroyed a multitude of trees.
The results and projects of the think tank will be summarised and presented that Gilberto Morishaw will write for the Dutch Minister of Agriculture Carola Schouten. The thinktank is a good way to make use of the brains our (highly) educated young people, even though they are far away from home (perhaps because they are far away), to help solve problems with an open mind. As Tanja Fraai concludes, speaking on behalf of the WeConnect team.