Opinion: Cayman could pay a high price for neglecting its agricultural roots

Amidst rising temperatures and living costs, the Cayman Islands is at a crossroads for how it will support the population.
Cayman neglects agricultural roots
 Aleigha General

Much like many other Caribbean nations, the Cayman Islands got their introduction to the global economy through agricultural products. Thatch rope hoisted the islands into the world view while seafood and indigenous plants formed the cuisine so many come from across the world to experience.

As a cornerstone of Caymanian society and its establishment, one could expect the agricultural industry in Cayman to be flourishing and well funded but, unfortunately, that is not the case.

While agriculture has grown in popularity over the past several years, with small landholdings popping up across the island, there is still a significant struggle for these practices to be considered mainstream.

The primary issue that results from this is an over-reliance on imported products, driving up the cost of living and further blocking the everyday person’s access to fresh, healthy, affordable produce.

A report from the United States Department of Agriculture states that the US earned $13.37 million dollars from exporting fresh vegetables alone to the Cayman Islands in 2022.

What this statistic reveals is that not only is there a demand in the Cayman Islands for fresh produce, but that it is also extremely lucrative, so why is this sector not being capitalised on?

There are many benefits to bolstering Cayman’s agricultural sector. Perhaps the most profound of these is an increased resilience against extreme weather patterns and other natural events that could impact key supply chains.

Reflecting on the hurricanes and tropical storms of the past several years, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, resilience is more important now than ever.

Research shows that because of the climate crisis, temperatures are going to continue to rise and natural disasters will also increase in severity.

Cayman must go back to its roots and invest in agriculture, argues Compass columnist Aleigha General

Creating an avenue for protection and self preservation, whilst also reducing the carbon footprint of the islands through innovative agricultural technology, is the best way to combat the crisis and simultaneously not contribute to the problem.

Time and money are continuously invested in other protective and preventative measures such as hurricane-proofed infrastructure, drainage systems and solar energy because they are perceived as important to the wellbeing of the island. Why then, is a potential solution to food insecurity across the island not given the same priority?

The islands continue to develop in the real estate, finance and healthcare sectors, but little to nothing is done to ensure Caymanians can afford to feed their families enough to enjoy these amenities and developments.

Codi Whittaker, a young Caymanian running his own innovative farm in Cayman called Primitive Greens, has taken this issue into his own hands.

Providing some insight into what innovative agriculture is like and how it can benefit farmers and society, he expressed that through innovations such as his hydroponics container system, farmers would experience a significant improvement in time efficiency, crop yield and overall ease of farm management.

These benefits would not only make agriculture more lucrative for persons who want to take part, it would also help to combat environmental problems that farmers are often susceptible to such as pests and temperature fluctuations.

United Arab Emirates, hosting COP28, is the 5th largest oil producer and many activists are angered.

When asked what advice he would give to the Cayman Islands government about developing the sector, he said it would need a collaborative effort between “investment, innovation, environment, utilities and sustainability” – a sentiment also echoed in the Cayman Islands Climate Change Policy, which is currently being drafted by the Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency.

Beacon Farms is another local operation focused on improving the Caymanian agricultural landscape.

The farm assists those recovering from substance abuse by providing them with employment on the farms, which also utilises improved technology to “increase the volume and diversity of local produce and support food security in the Cayman Islands”.

Not only does their work improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable members of society through focused rehabilitation, it also diversifies the local economy.

This expansion is a key indicator that change is afoot.

Both of these organisations represent a changing climate surrounding agriculture and sustainability in the Cayman Islands, but without the backing of legislation, collaborative input from other industries and investment from other entities, similar farms will struggle to live up to their true potential for the Caymanian society.

Beacon Farms’ founder Granger Haugh – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Innovative agriculture does not stop at hydroponics, however.

It is a continuously growing field that is becoming more popular globally and regionally.

Similar to Primitive Greens, a New Jersey operation known as AeroFarms is using an “indoor vertical farming system” to reduce land usage and water usage in the state.

A Slovenian company by the name of TrapView was created in 2007 to monitor crops and pest activity with potentially one of the largest databases of pest recognition in the world, aiding farmers in diagnosing pest problems before they become detrimental.

In April of this year, Grenada partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations to promote and support digital agriculture across the region through a programme called the ‘Global Network of Digital Agriculture Innovation Hubs’.

This system is set to focus on developing agriculture across the region towards sustainability through technological advancements that can be shared across multiple Caribbean countries. These advancements can and do provide incredible opportunities for education, development, employment and specialisation to the societies they are utilised in.

The world will continue to change just as it continues to turn on its axis, whether the Caymanian government decides to take control of that change and use it to strengthen future generations is a decision that must be made before Cayman is left relying on others, once again.

Innovative agriculture is a resource that takes Cayman back to its roots and allows them to deepen even further. If development is truly the end goal, all sectors must be examined and redefined, including where our food comes from.


This story was published by Caymancompass.com with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.

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Aleigha General

Aleigha General

Aleigha General is a passionate International Relations student at the University of West London. She is driven by a desire to address pressing social issues in her region. Inspired by her recent experience at COP27, Aleigha is determined to raise awareness about sustainable practices and advocate for a better environment. With her storytelling skills and dedication, she aims to inspire change and become a powerful advocate for climate justice.

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