Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tropical Roots and Fruits, the Raizal, and the Tourism Economy on San Andres Island

Matt and Femke with Raizal farmer, Miss Theresa,
on Providence Island.
Update from the field - F2F Volunteers in Colombia!

Hello again from Femke and Matt on San Andres Island, Colombia. We are almost one third of the way through our trip and can barely believe how many wonderful characters we have met, and the amount of information we have gathered, over the past week on Old Providence Island and here on San Andres.

While on Providence, we visited half a dozen organic farms that are run by native islanders and also met with representatives from the National Parks office and the local farming and fishing cooperative. Our goal was to gather as much information as possible about crops and farming practices that have been successful in this Caribbean island environment. Though the soil here on San Andres is different than on Providence (here it is mostly rocky or red clay while Providence is mostly volcanic), the native culture and farming/food traditions are quite similar.


Femke learning about "Coll"--a type of 
collard green-- from Jackeline, a farmer
on Old Providence.
We were astonished by the abundance of fruits and root vegetables that are commonly grown on the islands and the enthusiastic willingness of local farmers to share farming secrets with two outsiders from another country. Papaya, pineapple, mango, avocado, banana, ginger, plum, yucca, and yams are a few the common crops with which we were already familiar. Breadfruit, nezberry, soursop, sweetsop, sorrel, jambolin, maracuya, gungu, and noni are a few foods that we only just discovered.  The farmers patiently walked us through their farms pointing out important plants and teaching us how they start each from seed or cutting, how they care for the plant, and how they harvest the fruits and roots when they are ready.

The past couple of days on San Andres have been equally insightful. One highlight was an early morning visit to an organic farm run by a man named Job Saas. Job inherited a beautiful plot of land from his grandparents and has turned it into a veritable eco-village, complete with a tropical fruit tree orchard, herb garden, and endangered animal habitat—including pens for black crabs, iguanas, and turtles. After touring his expansive space, we sampled fresh sorrel juice and cane syrup cake made from the fruits of his labor. Job will be an important mentor for our work here and has agreed to offer us further guidance as we move forward with workshop planning for the innkeepers.

Job Saas showing us one of the endangered
black crabs that he is protecting in his
eco-village.
In the coming weeks we have additional trips planned to meet with more local farmers on San Andres, some of the local community leaders, and the environmental protection agency CORALINA, to see how we can pool our collective resources and messaging to generate the greatest results for the community.  We are thankful to have found in-country partners that are supportive of sustainable, organic agriculture. However, our visits to the center of town and bus rides across the island are stark reminders of the ever-growing disparity between wealthy foreign proponents of the luxury tourism industry and the native islanders.  Large-scale resorts and duty free shops dominate the local economy and have had disastrous impacts on traditional island lifestyles and on the environment. Many of the younger Raizal (native islanders) are moving away from traditional farming work for more modern jobs in the tourism industry. Consequently, very little food is produced on the island and the Raizal are experiencing nutrient deficiencies as they now have to import expensive, lower quality food from off of the island.

Our project seeks to address the Raizal’s food security issues while also advancing their ability to benefit from the island’s tourism-based economy. Ultimately, in the final week of our trip, we will host a series of community meetings and a larger workshop on sustainable, small-scale horticulture practices. We have decided to start small and simple, with a plot of commonly used herbs and easy-to-grow vegetables, including: cilantro, peppermint, green onion, basil, oregano, spinach, collard greens, and bell pepper.  The goal is to inspire the posada owners with plants that grow fairly quickly in the island climate and produce year round.  We will also provide additional resources for those who wish to go further and plant larger crops that require more patience, care, and timing with the wet season (summer).

Cilantro-- one of the crops that we plan to include in our
demonstration garden and workshops with the posadas
nativas on San Andres Island.
In addition to food security, we hope that our workshops will enable native innkeepers to provide high quality organic produce to their guests—giving them a competitive edge in the lodging market and promoting an eco-tourism model over the all-inclusive resort system. We are also aiming to improve the efficiency and safety of rainwater harvesting systems in order to secure a reliable and sustainable water source for irrigation and all household uses. More on the rainwater component next time!

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