by Janelle Zakour RD
I was fortunate and humbled to be a participant of the POS Climathon event that took place over the weekend. The Climathon was a 24-hour global Hackathon spearheaded by Climate-KIC and geared around finding solutions to the climate change problem. It was hosted locally by NGO IAM Movement which is a non-profit organization founded in 2014 by a group of young people in Trinidad & Tobago who felt a strong common need to effect positive environmental and social change. They host activities and events to educate and empower others, raise awareness on key social, environmental and economic issues, and are now a platform for discussion and dialogue on important issues at a national level. The Climathon was co-hosted by Mora Carbon who is the leader in the Caribbean for providing access to the international carbon markets and opportunities for trading carbon credits from CDM and voluntary projects. They are also an advisory service that offers comprehensive sustainability solutions and services to accelerate the transition to low-carbon growth and prosperity.
The Climathon 2017 challenge for Port of Spain as quoted by the hosts 'focused on issues around urban and peri-urban agriculture, incorporating a holistic approach that will consider the environment, economy and societal well-being. Agriculture was selected as it is envisioned that solutions would be simple to implement, replicable and scalable - and additionally could help promote a needed message in our country, which is food security, given that we import an estimate 90% of our food supplies'.
Eight teams took part in this event and our theme was 'Urban Agriculture to Promote the Greening of our City' and 'Food Security'. Our objective was to formulate a potential solution to the barriers facing the theme and fine tune it within those 24-hours. We were taught how to effectively 'pitch' an idea (Shark Tank-style) as we had to pitch our solution to a panel of judges in the morning. Three winners were chosen based on a key selection criteria and how attractive and feasible the solutions presented were.
It is a very saddening reality that many climate change solutions that were proposed are hindered by the crime situation in T&T, particularly predial larceny. For example, during the hack sessions, one of the mentors (who happened to be one of my permaculture teachers) reminded us of the situation in Woodbrook where within the last 15 odd years, the majority of fruit trees were deliberately cut down in an effort to deter young men from jumping their walls and stealing their fruit. It reminded me of my childhood days growing up in Woodbrook and happily playing in our plum, mango and cherry trees and catching sapodillas as they fell from their towering branches. When my parents sold the house, the wistful longing of my tree-swinging days would surface every time we drove past, until that one terrible day when I realized that our beloved trees were no longer visible from the road... they had been chopped down. The more developed Woodbrook became, the more fruit trees began to disappear.
My childhood paradise had become a hub for partying, drugs, sex and gambling. And the more financially progressive our towns became, the more rampant the crime became too. I guess stealing as a means to procure cash to fuel vices became a viable business, particularly during the Christmas and Carnival seasons. This made Food Security a very big problem in the heart of the capital as many households abandoned their kitchen gardens in favour of concrete spaces.
Local agri-economist Omardath Maharaj (who was also one of the event judges) has commented on the food security issue before. “Being import-dependent with a burgeoning annual food import bill of approximately $6 billion, declining foreign exchange reserves and increasing pressure on exchange rates, and widening current account and fiscal deficits; we must focus on our food independence sooner than later. In addition to agriculture sector policy and targets, greater emphasis must be placed on actions that citizens can take for themselves, at home or in public spaces, which brings the greatest return within our environment—both economic and ecological. The outcome of which, possibly not anticipated by some, will be irreversible.”
We live in a country where imported apples cost less than locally grown mangoes and Idaho potatoes are half the price per pound than local sweet potatoes... I'll never forget this one street vendor who was haggling Julie mangoes for TTD$30 apiece. As for the food security aspect, in my opinion, we as a country fail miserably... it is far more common to see USDA beef, fish from China and anything potato or wheat-based on many local restaurant menus. And I know this from first hand experience as a commis chef taking breaks in walk-in chillers... It's funny how much one can observe about the surrounding environment while hiding from the head chef. Even our beautiful amaranth spinach and 'pakchoi' have been overshadowed by bagged baby spinach and dinosaur kale (which can actually be grown here... microclimates are a brilliant thing).
I was part of a team of 3 other permaculturists who were also a few of some of my dearest friends. We hashed out ideas throughout the night while sipping on kefir water, napping on teacher's desks and all but nearly collapsing in exhaustion with bloodshot eyes and nervous twitching, but maintaining hearts full of hope. The mission of my team was to bring back the original Trinbagonian food gardens by means of sustainable edible landscaping to create a decentralized food production system. This simply meant that we want to place the power of food accessibility back into the hands of the people, and doing so in a sustainable, organic way. We represented The Food Garden Initiative (TFGI), a registered business directed by 2 of my teammates that offer the installation of edible gardens for private, commercial and public projects, and building the capacity of those clients they serve, using the principles of permaculture.
Permaculture is so much more than organic farming. My continuing journey as a student of permaculture was and still is a life changing experience that never fails to open my eyes to the impeccable intelligence of nature. Permaculture or permanent agriculture was a term coined by Bill Mollison in 1978 who defined it as “The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” It uses several scientific disciplines (such as biology, ecology, geography etc.) and basically integrates people into Nature's design. Essentially, a successful permaculture design will provide us with shelter, food, water, income, community and aesthetic and spiritual fulfilment within a balanced and healthy biological community.
Permaculture activities are strictly always in agreement with the ethics of Permaculture which are part of what sets permaculture apart from any other organized system (universities, colleges, churches and any other solution)—we have ethics, “we have morality” as Bill Mollison says. The three ethics of permaculture are as follows:
1. Care of the Earth—Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
2. Care of People—Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence.
3. Setting Limits to Population and Consumption—By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles. (Some also describe the third ethic as share the surplus.)
The project was based largely on these ethics while making it a viable business model.
Care of the Earth — Creating a closed-loop, small-scale agricultural formula that aimed to rehabilitate soil, implement balanced ecosystems using companion planting and composting, naturally organic pest controls, rainwater collection, resource conversion and vermiculture while growing food for human consumption. Our project emphasis was on perennials and indigenous crop species that are largely pest resistant and have the ability to withstand many climate events... such as the recent flooding that has affected most of central and southern Trinidad.
Care of People — Being able to provide a garden installation service as well as a tangible commodity that provides clean, chemical-free nutritious food with an educational aspect, which plays on the social wisdom saying 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime'.
Share the surplus — The overall goal of the project was to build community and foster communication within the community who can use their garden surplus to create cottage industry opportunities as well as bring back traditional bartering and trading systems. This will stimulate local relationships and foster a culture of resourcefulness.
The best part is that my team placed third!! We're on a mission to make permaculture a household name :)
To close the Climathon, the participants, organizers, sponsors (including Ambassadors from France, the EU, the Netherlands, and the mayor of POS) and willing volunteers took part in Heart4Climate, a massive human-formed heart. Heart4Climate started off as a local demonstration but has now become a global phenomenon with an aim to bring a message of love and solidarity to the climate movement.
#Heart4Climate! Will upload the official picture when it is released.
Climate change is real and we as a global community need to take action immediately. I myself saw first hand what global warming is capable of having witnessed and survived Category 5 Hurricane Maria, one of the worst natural disasters of 2017, which totally flattened Dominica and damaged many others. We only have one Earth to live on. It is time to take responsibility before we wipe ourselves out... it takes two hands to clap but many hands to build a community. Every piece of the climate change puzzle requires our global communities coming together.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. One of the highlights of the event was our midnight nap session. There was a designated camping site within the grounds for those who really needed a power nap before the presentations... But all I had was a hammock. And there were no trees that were grown close together! The only logical solution was to set up camp in one of the goal posts. It was quite the novel idea and I had a great cat-nap! The morning view was pretty amazing too :)