My name is Mark Boneo and I am 19 years old. I live in the rural village of Lopinot in the country of Trinidad and Tobago. I am a Youth Ambassador (Bold Leader 2013), BSc Business Management student, food security advocate and a youth ‘Agripreneur’.
My story began at the age of 9. It was in the year 2005 and my father had just passed away. It was a devastating time as I had just lost my mentor, hero and dad. My brother Matthew and my cousin Andy became the male figures in my life. Matthew and Andy were both into agriculture and so I spent a great deal of my time farming with them. This exposure invoked my love and passion for agriculture.
Lopinot is well known for its hillside farming because it was once among the most fertile and productive cocoa and coffee estates in Trinidad and Tobago. Unfortunately, agriculture in Lopinot has regressed, with ‘slash and burn’ being the main contributor.
Due to this harsh reality, at the age of 17 I made a personal decision to become an ambassador for food security; to promote the ideology of ‘growing what you eat and eating what you grow’. However, I knew that my discussions with others about food security were not sufficient, and so I created a mission statement.
My aim evolved into providing high quality, tasty, organic and affordable vegetables for the average Caribbean national using protected area agriculture. This was a huge vision for a 17-year-old, and it was criticized by most, but something intrinsic kept me motivated and determined to achieve this goal.
I made the bold step to acquire a low interest loan, which was used to finance the construction of a shade house in 2013. Unfortunately, T&T’s protected agriculture industry is still in the beginning phases, and as a result my primary source of information was trial and error. This proved to be pretty costly as demonstrated by my very first lesson, a lesson that I can never forget.
Due to its poor design, a powerful wind completely demolished the greenhouse structure. Can you imagine how this affected me? How difficult it was to service a loan for a shattered dream?
Surprisingly, I was still motivated to continue. Maybe it was that same intrinsic quality that caused me to create the vision in the first place. Through family support and part time ‘odd jobs’ I was able to start reconstruction, salvaging the materials that were left.
Although I didn’t use the organic method as I originally intended, I was able to cultivate my first tomato crop in the protected area. As the word about my first harvest got around, a harvest derived from a sustainable system, there was a spark of interest in the minds of the conventional farmers. As a result they were more open to discussion than they were before.
What is the project about?
This project will make the current protected area operation sustainable and inspiring to the farmers of Lopinot, and by extension the Caribbean region and the world. This project will not require large amounts of synthetic input. This is of paramount importance as it is necessary that the adverse effects of farming are not increased.
The model farm will be built on the idea of the three R’s; reduce reuse and recycle. Reduce in the application synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, Reuse plant debris as organic manure and Recycle locally available coconut husks to use as the primary growth medium.
Because organic methods will be used, a reliable pest management system will be necessary. I have started looking at processing neem to derive a pesticide and planting the marigold plant in very close proximity to the growing area so as to keep out unwanted pests.
The model farm will be opened for tours for the conventional farming population and students of the elementary school in Lopinot. This effort seeks to fuel the paradigm shift in conventional farms towards sustainability. Additionally, sustainable farming will be introduced to the children at a young age so that they know sustainable farming is both fun and feasible.
This program offers mentorship from seasoned experts that will hopefully force my teacher, ‘trial and error’ to quit his job. The funds from this grant will assist in making the current growing environment conducive to organic methods of production via structural improvements and equipment purchases.
Moreover the training will assist in the areas of market research and development, making full use of social media as marketing tool. All of these measures will allow me to conduct my current operations in a more sustainable way and enable me to be closer to my vision; healthy, natural and organic.
As an added bonus, the networks created while attending the GCARD3 global event would be beneficial in achieving the regional goal, that is to provide high quality, tasty, organic and affordable vegetables for the average Caribbean national using protected area agriculture.
How do I plan to use the USD $5,000 grant?
Cultivation of neem trees and marigold plants – $350
RH, pH, EC testing equipment – $450
Acquiring and processing natural growing medium – $860
Drainage and structural improvements – $1,665
Post-harvest facility and materials – $1,000
Marketing and distribution – $665
‘Grow what you eat and eat what you grow’
Blogpost and picture submitted by Mark Boneo (Lopinot, Trinidad and Tobago) – markboneo[at]hotmail.com
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
This post is published as proposal #191 of “YAP” – our “Youth Agripreneur Project”.
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