Ridge to Reefs (RTR) commits to address key vulnerabilities in food systems in Puerto Rico by supporting agricultural producers. Specifically, RTR will locally produce and distribute 20 tons of organic compound fertilizers to 30 farmers, engage in the production and implementation of effective control methods for Coffee Borer Beetle (CBB) to be implemented on three coffee farms (approx. 12 farmers), and provide a solar-powered cooler to be used by three different farmer groups in Puerto Rico (approx. 24 farmers).
To carry out this commitment, RTR will provide a towable solar-powered cooler to three farmer groups in Puerto Rico for a period of two years. This will not only support agricultural producers’ ability to store and sell product, but also generate long-term market opportunities through aggregation and enhanced cooled supply chain. The unit will provide 250 Cu. Ft. of refrigerated capacity and can transport almost one ton of produce. Farmer groups receiving the cooler will be trained in maintenance and operation. Data on the weight of produce preserved and transported will be recorded and shared with partners quarterly. In addition, RTR will provide a design for a freezer version of this unit to three fishermen cooperatives, as their product would need freezer storage, in an effort to scale RTR’s work with agricultural producers.
In partnership with local farmers, RTR will produce and distribute 20 tons of organic compound fertilizers, providing a more cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and resilient alternative to traditional synthetic fertilizers.
Lastly, RTR will support the adoption of successful control methods for Coffee Borer Beetle (CBB) by engaging at two cooperative agricultural research stations and three coffee farmer organizations to develop and test methods. These practices will then be disseminated to local producers with workshops being held to raise awareness. Technical “how-to” documents detailing best practices will be produced in both English and Spanish and be disseminated.
Months 1-3: RTR will hold a roundtable with stakeholders and partners to plan the implementation of project activities. The towable solar powered walk in-cooler will be shipped to Puerto Rico and the project team will meet with farmer groups to determine protocols to maximize benefits from the use of the cooler, production of fertilizers, and Coffee Borer Beetle (CBB) control methods. The project team will share the designs for our transportable solar powered freezer with at least three different fishermen’s cooperatives in Puerto Rico and collaborate to secure funding for their construction. During this time, RTR will also meet with additional agricultural producers and fishermen’s cooperatives to develop an action plan to fund and continue the implementation of our shared objectives.
Months 3-6: RTR will begin the implementation phase of the commitment. This will involve securing all materials required to achieve project objectives. Once materials are secured, construction, implementation, and operation of these solutions will begin. In close collaboration with local farmers, the project team will begin production of high-quality organic compound fertilizers, with at least 20 tons being produced and supplied to 30 farms by project completion. In month three, the project team will initiate the commercial scale production of effective cultural and bio-control methods for CBB. The dissemination of these methods to other farmers will also begin during this time. A comprehensive community engagement and stakeholder outreach plan will be developed and implemented in months 3-12.
Months 9-12: RTR will continue and complete the implementation efforts outlined above in addition to continuing community engagement and outreach until project completion. The monitoring and evaluation protocols and shared metrics of success will be consistently worked on in order to carefully quantify the project’s overall impact. The project team will also assess the “post-project impact” to estimate and quantify the short and mid-term (2-4 years) effects of the project activities.
Puerto Rico currently imports over 85% of its food. Hurricanes Irma and Maria have further exacerbated food insecurity on the island causing over $2 billion of damage to the agricultural sector by destroying crops, significantly disrupting supply chains, and damaging vital production infrastructure.
Not only is food imported, but the inputs used in local agriculture such as fertilizer are highly dependent on imports. After the hurricanes, many farmers reported that they were unable to procure production inputs for months. Currently, farmers rely on imported synthetic fertilizer which has negative impacts on soil health, environmental quality, and the overall resilience of food systems in Puerto Rico.
It has been estimated that nearly 18 million coffee trees and approximately 85% of the island’s coffee farms were wiped out by the hurricanes. Coffee growing families lost an estimated $27 million of income, while the local coffee industry lost an estimated $75 million. Another major threat to the coffee industry has been Coffee Borer Beetle (CBB), a harmful pest that has resulted in around 2000 coffee farmers have abandoned their land.
Lastly, many farmers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of product due to the destruction of infrastructure and loss of grid power. Most farm operations rely upon the electrical and water distribution grid for vital on-farm energy and water needs. Given the high cost of electricity in Puerto Rico, photovoltaic refrigeration and freezer systems provide a robust, cost-effective solution to reduce this dependence and minimize losses while simultaneously giving producers access to new markets, however, most farmers to do not have access to this solution.
Given these challenges farmers face of (1) relying on imported synthetic fertilizer (2) losing crop to CBB pest and (3) relying on electrical grid for vital on-farm energy and water needs, there is a clear need to develop an effective solution for bolstering the resilience of food systems in Puerto Rico.
RTR is interested in financial assistance to enable the construction of additional independent (photovoltaic) refrigeration and freezer systems (both mobile and stationary) to support agricultural producers and fishermen’s cooperatives throughout Puerto Rico. Additionally, RTR is interested in financial assistance for expanding the production of low-cost organic fertilizers for Puerto Rican farmers. RTR is also interested in services from potential commitment partners to help determine where to deploy these systems in a manner that will have the greatest positive impact on supply chains, food systems, and food security on island. Finally, RTR is seeking media support to raise awareness on the importance of engineering competitive resilient food systems.
RTR will provide project partners and stakeholders with guidance and technical assistance related to supporting the agricultural and environmental sectors on island. Furthermore, RTR has a strong network of local partners who can provide support with implementation, stakeholder/community engagement and outreach, information dissemination, and program monitoring as well as reporting and evaluation.