I fondly recall my father’s stories about Trinidad and Tobago’s thriving production and export of sugarcane and cocoa in the 1970s. In particular, we produced high quality cocoa that was praised and sought after in Europe and the United Kingdom.

However, during my childhood in the 1990s, there were few sugarcane farms and cocoa estates left to fawn over, and the economy’s focus on oil and gas, as well as imports, left a dwindling agricultural sector.

In 1972 agriculture contributed to over 7% of the twin islands’ GDP, but in 2019 this figure stood at a meager 1% (1).

Plus, the country’s profitable oil and gas economy has left a large carbon footprint, resulting in its less-than-ideal rankings on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for climate change (2, 3).

Yet, guided by the United Nation’s (UN’s) 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and economic diversification efforts, the twin islands’ agricultural sector is currently experiencing growth, with a noticeably revamped cocoa production (4).

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at what sustainable agriculture looks like in Trinidad and Tobago and identify potential areas for future development.

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Agriculture accounted for 4% of the gross domestic product (GDP) globally in 2018 and remains a crucial component of economic growth (5).

However, conventional and industrial agriculture extensively uses pesticides, fertilizers, and animal-rearing practices that pose risks to human and environmental health (6, 7).

Alternatively, sustainable agriculture aims to meet current food needs without harming the environment or human health. It does so by integrating ecosystems into farming, efficiently using nonrenewable resources, and supporting and enhancing natural resources (8).

It also seeks to eradicate hunger by improving food security and access to healthy foods (9).

What challenges does sustainable ag face in Trinidad and Tobago?

Sustainable agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is in its early stages and affected by limited arable land and substantial food imports.

Furthermore, the adoption of a green economy as a part of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for small island nations like T&T has been met with resistance (10, 11).

That’s because T&T’s oil and gas economy provides over 45% of the island’s GDP, and this sector claims that taxes on its activities may hamper the economy (12).

As such, the government has prioritized economic diversification and movement toward a “blue” economy — which would develop sustainable aquaculture — over a green economy.

Summary

Sustainable agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago, which is in its early stages, has been restricted by limited arable land, fear of high taxes for oil and gas activities, and preference for a “blue” economy formed around sustainable aquaculture.

Agroecology is a farming practice that combines the sciences of agronomy and ecology.

Agronomy focuses on soil management and crop production, while ecology is the study of the relationship between living organisms and their environment (13, 14).

This style of farming restores degraded lands, supports human health through improved access to nutritious foods, and fosters biodiversity by strategically cultivating symbiotic crop relationships (13, 14).

In Trinidad and Tobago, Rocrops Agrotec — a 30-year-old, family-owned, smallholder farm — is leading the agroecological space (15).

Built on formerly degraded and acidic sugarcane fields, this farm rehabilitated its land through soil restoration and the minimal application of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

Instead, the farm uses fertigation — the distribution of small, precise amounts of fertilizers twice per day via a crop watering system — to avoid excessive fertilizer use, plus lemongrass as a weed deterrent in place of herbicides (16).

The farm grows limes, other tropical fruits, vegetables, and herbaceous perennials. Doing so not only produces high quality, pesticide-free crops throughout the year but also provides an ecosystem for bees, birds, frogs, and other wildlife.

Rocrops Agrotec’s approach boosts food production, is environmentally friendly, and offers an economically sound farming model.

Summary

Agroecology is a farming practice that enhances biodiversity to support agricultural production. The Rocrops Agrotec family-owned farm is the leader of agroecological sustainable agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago.

Aquaculture is the rearing and harvesting of fish, shellfish, and other seafood for human consumption (17).

Companies that focus on sustainability strive to restore marine ecosystems by reducing overfishing and the need for bottom trawling — a common fishing practice that damages marine life and ecosystems (18, 19, 20).

Furthermore, sustainable aquaculture can improve food security by making nutritious seafood more available (17, 21).

T&T’s Ministry of Agriculture, Land, and Fisheries offers free training courses to farmers and the general public in aquaculture and aquaponics, making small-scale sustainable farming more accessible and popular (22).

Aquaponics combines traditional aquaculture and hydroponic farming — the growing of crops with nutrient-rich mineral solutions instead of soil — so that the waste from fish and aquatic organisms are used as nutrients for plants (23).

These training courses teach the basics of pond construction and have led to the establishment of small aquaculture farms that can generate income or reduce food bills through homegrown food production (24).

Summary

Aquaculture and aquaponics are small-scale farming practices that are becoming more popular throughout Trinidad and Tobago as a result of free training courses offered by the government.

Vertical farming is an indoor or climate-controlled agricultural system that grows crops sustainably in small spaces (25, 26).

Vertical systems may use hydroponics, aquaponics, or aeroponics — in which mineralized aerosols are applied to the roots of crops — to grow herbs like chives and mint, greens like lettuce and mustard greens, and even tomatoes.

Green Age Farms in Trinidad and Tobago supplies and installs vertical hydroponics systems and greenhouse supplies to support sustainable, environmentally friendly, and resource-efficient farming methods (27).

These vertical farms target both personal and commercial farming and can be found in spaces ranging from traditional greenhouses to kitchen gardens to people’s backyards.

Summary

Green Age Farms supplies and installs vertical hydroponics systems for personal and commercial farming. You can use vertical farming to grow smaller crops like tomatoes, leafy greens, and herbs.

The Extension, Training, and Information Services Division (ETIS) of T&T’s Ministry of Agriculture, Land, and Fisheries offers an array of free agricultural training courses (28).

Free trainings include crop production, livestock, home gardening, introductory organic farming, fertilizer use, and pest management. The Ministry also offers seedlings for home gardening for free or for sale, as well as incentive grants and funding for farmers (22, 29).

For instance, you can take a course on home gardening from the Ministry’s program, then put this knowledge into practice with a collection of free or subsidized seeds for crops like black-eyed peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce.

Although these trainings aren’t sustainable agricultural practices in the traditional sense, they bridge a gap between education and food production while promoting food sovereignty and local eating.

Summary

Free agricultural courses in Trinidad and Tobago encourage local, self-sustaining food production.

“WhyFarm is a catalyst for inspiration in the agricultural sector,” says Alpha Sennon, founder and CEO of the award-winning nonprofit WhyFarm (30).

His approach extends beyond the farm and focuses on educating school-age children with the long-term goal of developing a sustainable agricultural sector and generations of environmentally conscious farmers in Trinidad and Tobago.

Through the creation of the world’s first food security and nutrition superhero, AGRIman, Sennon and his team use “agri-entertainment” to creatively engage young audiences and policymakers alike (31).

Here are several sustainable agriculture projects that WhyFarm is involved in as it works to reshape T&T’s agriculture landscape (32, 33):

  • Grown in East Port of Spain. This community garden is located in a low income community in the capital city. Community members are trained in home gardening and “agripreneurship” to build economic opportunities.
  • Culinary Medicine Food Park. This hydroponic garden system, which is located in the San Fernando General Hospital, grows food to feed patients and aims to reduce the hospital’s food bill.
  • School of AgriCOOLture and school gardens. These projects teach school-age children about agriculture through theatre, spoken word, poetry, dance, and music sessions. In addition, school gardens and farming have been implemented across many primary schools.
Summary

WhyFarm is an award-winning organization that focuses on youth education and “agri-entertainment” to promote sustainable agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago.

In the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, sustainable agriculture is in its developmental stages. Yet, it has a promising future through agroecology, aquaculture, vertical farming, free training courses, and the emergence of community gardens.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the public and private agricultural sectors, community members in East Port of Spain can improve their economic capacities through harvesting crops like bok choy.

Small-scale aquaponic and vertical hydroponic farming may be the future of kitchen gardens, empowering citizens to grow some of their own food and establish more sustainable, healthy eating habits.