Bonaire is energizing its agricultural sector

Maurice Adriaens is back in the agricultural sector. He knows this sector like the palm of his hands after having studied and worked in this field for more than 30 years. The value of his priceless expertise serves to give Bonaire’s sector of agriculture, cattle breeding, and fisheries new life after years of negligence. A sector with an essential role for food security in the new normal. 

Maurice Adriaens is the acting Director of the Government’s Department of Agriculture, Cattlebreeding, and fisheries in Bonaire. This job that he started in April 2019 was not new to him. Some 30 years ago, he worked for the Ministry of LVV of the Netherlands Antilles to manage these affairs for all the Antillean islands. Back then, the Ministry was in charge of all the Dutch Antillean islands. Adriaens still remembers how prosperous this sector was in Bonaire. “It used to cover the salaries of all the public servants of Bonaire”, recalls Adriaens.

Bonaire was well known for its goat and sheep breeding and fisheries. It used to export these to the other Dutch islands. When he went to live in Bonaire five years ago, the level of deterioration that he encountered in this sector was a surprise for Adriaens.

Last year he was asked by the Netherlands’ government if he thinks there is a future for local agriculture in Bonaire. Based on his experience, he immediately said yes. He remembers how well developed Bonaire’s agriculture sector used to be in the past. One of the important investments in Bonaire’s agriculture is the establishment of a water recycling installation. Besides all the new technology that nowadays exists in this field, this ensures sufficient water production to be used in the development of agriculture.

In 2019 he made a plan to develop Bonaire’s own food production sector. In 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency of food security made it very urgent to start production on the island. Before that, Bonaire had access to fresh vegetables and fruits at low prices from Venezuela. The introduction of the trade embargo with Venezuela created a food supply crisis. The supermarkets could not meet the demand for fresh vegetables and meat, and suddenly, the gap started to become apparent. Then the transportation sector was hit by the COVID crisis, and the scarcity was apparent. Bonaire’s government decided to speed up the plans to develop the local food production sector.

Restructuring the infrastructure
In the last 15 years, Bonaire’s government had neglected this sector completely. The agricultural infrastructure had become almost non-existent, and the farmers were demotivated. Therefore, the agriculture development plan consists of a setup to start motivating the existing farmers, forming new ones from the bottom up.

According to this plan, the government creates the infrastructure. It remains the landowner but will leave the farming and cattle breeding to private entities. It includes restructuring the infrastructure on the 50 acres of agricultural land that the Government owns at Plantage Aruba. This used to be 100 acres, but it is still large enough to grow sufficient for the Bonerian market and export. The water recycling plant that produces 600 cubs of water per day is located on the plantation, so access to water is not a problem.

The government will parcel out 12 areas of the land to develop into agricultural projects. The plan also includes stimulating local, especially young Bonerians, to enter the farming business. If they do not have farming experience yet, they can enter a three-year program. In the first year, they enter as an employee, working on the agricultural project and receiving a salary while learning modern farming skills. The agriculture department will provide the greenhouse, including all the modern farming installations.

In the second year, they will become assistants to the manager. Together with the agriculture department, they will make a management plan for the greenhouse and the planting schedule. In the third year, the participant should make the whole plan and manage the project on his/her own, with only the agriculture department’s coaching and supervision. If, after three years, the program participant wants to continue this project, the government will lease the land to him for this purpose. The projects will range from small ones of 100 square meters to larger ones of 1.000 square meters.

The program will start in April and should be completely operational by the end of 2021. People who already have the necessary skills and experience can apply for a parcel of land and start on their own. There are currently four persons who have shown interest or have already started with their own greenhouses. One is expected to become operational in April, while the other 3 will be so far before the end of this year. The government wants to realize 12 agricultural projects within this setup. It invests between USD 20.000 to USD 30.000 in each greenhouse project and its infrastructure. Eight more will be developed, besides the 4 that are already working on their own projects.

This same concept will be developed in sheep and goat breeding as well. The idea is to develop between 3 to 4 projects, each with approximately 400 animals, to ensure profitability. The government will develop a modern abattoir (slaughterhouse) with the facilities of prime cut production. This will create the possibility of charging higher prices for the meat and even exporting it to Europe.

After having re-developed the farming sector of agriculture and small cattle breeding, follows the development of fishing. “We are currently not even using 1% of the economic potential of the sea around us”, says Adriaens.