Finding ways to be smarter producers of food was a priority in small island developing states (SIDS) before the outbreak of COVID-19. Now the ideas of farmers and entrepreneurs, such as Piri Maao in the Cook Islands, are being avidly sought by governments and development bodies, which are keen to drive resilience and recovery as the pandemic moves into its second year.
Similar to other SIDS, the Cook Islands has limited arable land and finite water resources, while agricultural production has declined in recent decades and food imports increased.
In April this year, Maao was awarded a SMART AgriTech funding grant by the government of the Polynesian nation to establish a solar-powered hydroponics greenhouse to grow vegetables year round.
Considering the force and isolation of COVID-19, strengthening food production and distribution systems is key to fighting hunger and tackling the double burden of malnutrition. The development of aqua and hydroponics embraces all dimensions of food security
“Growing in a greenhouse eliminates any environmental issues, such as rain and wind, which I currently face in a soil-based system. There is a reduced use of pesticides; insect screens will help eliminate a lot of the larger insects, such as moths and beetles. Solar power to run the system ensures sustainability and low running costs,” Maao, an agricultural entrepreneur on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, told IPS.
The SMART AgriTech Scheme, which was launched in July 2020, is one way the Cook Islands government has responded to the pandemic with a long-term vision.
“Through the AgriTech grants, successful applicants were given the opportunity to pursue new ideas: ideas that can transform a business or the agriculture industry through innovation and productivity improvements, respond to opportunities that are driven by new ideas or meeting new market needs, facilitate better connections between producers, processors and marketers, and reduce farming’s environmental footprint through new technology and more efficient processes, mitigating the impacts of climate change,” Hon. Mark Brown, the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, told IPS.