Beauty Thrives with A Purpose: “Hydroponics in St. Helena”

On September 19th, 2021, seeds were planted in St. Helena, both literally and figuratively, with the installation of a Hydroponic System.

It was a collaborative project with myself as Councillor of the area along with the Member of Parliament for Caroni East, the Honourable Dr. Rishard Seecheran and our Ms. World Trinidad & Tobago, Ms. Jeanine Brandt, as part of her Beauty with a Purpose Campaign 2021.

Hydroponics refers to a system of cultivating plants using only water, nutrients, and a growing medium. This concept whereby water is substituted for soil in a drip system has a myriad of advantages such as a reduction in labour to maintain the crops, conservation of water and the effective utilisation of small spaces.

Among the crops cultivated were seasonings and green leafy vegetables such as chive, kale, mustard, arugala, patchoi, lettuce and bhandania (chadon beni) in a 10 by 12 foot space using vertical towers. This feature gave us the same planting density as a quarter acre of land, allowing for the accommodation of over 500 seedlings.

Drawing from this, such a system has the potential to serve at least 100 households.

In this first installation, vulnerable families from the community who would benefit from this project have already been identified. That’s where the figurative seeds come into play, as families will be able to feel the sprouting of hope and comfort during these challenging and unprecedented times.

The United National Congress fully supports and encourages initiatives of this nature as they fit into our policy on Agriculture and Food Security, as outlined in our National Economic Transformation Masterplan 2020-2025.

The UNC holds steadfast in our vision of a food secure nation and it is in this regard, agriculture is one of the main pillars of our economic transformation strategy. We believe it is an area that is all-encompassing, with a lot of depth and range for practitioners in almost any age group.

Unfortunately, the collapse of our economy pre-COVID, job losses and other socio-economic challenges brought about by the pandemic have left many families on the breadline. Food prices and taxes continue to soar at an alarming rate with no consideration for the vulnerable and working class.

Many may remember that when the UNC was in government, VAT was removed from over 7,000 basic items as part of a wider national development strategy to improve standard of living and making food more affordable to all citizens.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar has clearly elucidated that a UNC government “will revitalise traditional viable agricultural industries such as sugar cane, cocoa, coffee, citrus, rice and dairy as well as develop non-traditional agricultural commodities in which we have a comparative advantage and where there is significant market opportunity”.

She further posits that this would “encourage the development of agricultural cooperatives in which small growers and others in the value chain can come together to pool resources, lower risks and own the agri-business venture, in collaboration with the government”. Such an initiative would significantly reduce our country’s annual food import bill, allowing us to save foreign exchange, encouraging job creation and assist in the fight against climate change.

It is expected that within 3-6 weeks, harvesting of these crops from the St. Helena Hydroponics venture can begin. The project also seeks to encourage community engagement through occasional maintenance of the crops. Many will benefit and many will learn from it, and I am looking forward to a positive and powerful impact.

As Councillor, I also take this opportunity to thank Mr. Bhavesh Maharaj-Agronomist, Green Age Farms, Lettuce Boys and the team the Eco Park. On behalf of myself and burgesses, I wish Ms. Brandt a memorable and favourable experience at Miss World 2021, as we plant more seeds of hope for her success.

Richard Rampersad