Aquaculture for Abaco: Working with The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Blue Atlas
Unable to produce adequate food domestically, most Caribbean states are heavily reliant on imports. The Bahamas is no exception and its food import bill stands at roughly $1 billion. Now add an unprecedented natural disaster into the mix: the most powerful storm to reach The Bahamas since records began.
This is exactly what happened in 2019 as Hurricane Dorian hit The Bahamas, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. The impact was particularly acute in the Abaco Islands, over which Hurricane Dorian moved particularly slowly. For three days, Great Abaco experienced tropical-storm-force winds. Of the 43 lives estimated to have been lost in the wake of the hurricane, 35 were in the Abaco Islands. After the disaster the BBC described Great Abaco as ‘virtually uninhabitable’.
Enter The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC): the leading global Jewish humanitarian organisation, often referred to as the global Jewish 9-1-1. Among its broad array of activities, JDC notably provides crisis response and relief: helping afflicted communities of all faiths to recover and rebuild after a disaster.
True to its mission, JDC was on the ground in The Bahamas in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. But they also recognise the importance of long-term support and local sustainability: lives and communities must also be rebuilt and prepared for the future, and this takes time. Two and half years after Hurricane Dorian, JDC is still working in the Abaco Islands, helping to rebuild and strengthen food systems and livelihoods.
“There can be no quick fixes in healing communities and fortifying them after a disaster has struck. We’re very proud to work with Volcani International Partnerships and the Blue Atlas Project to ensure coming generations here will have access to the food and job opportunities needed to build a brighter future. By harnessing the power of local Bahaman communities and deploying Israeli agricultural expertise and philanthropic investment from the Jewish world, we have a model to achieve that goal.” Avital Sandler-Loeff, Executive Director of JDC’s disaster relief and international development unit
In The Blue Atlas Project, the JDC found a valuable partner. It's easy to understand why.
Blue Atlas is a non-profit organisation dedicated to rebuilding food systems for those impacted by disasters. Founded by Kali Kirkendall - an inspiring leader with over 15 years experience spanning agriculture and environmental development - Blue Atlas offers training, infrastructural and financial support to help build food systems that are deeply embedded in local communities and benefit all.
In the Abaco Islands, Blue Atlas’ work began with the Food Equity and Sustainability Training (FEAST) Center. Located in Marsh Harbour and completed in 2021, the Center offers training in sustainable agricultural practices including permaculture, aquaponics and hydroponics. Building on the success of the FEAST Center, Blue Atlas has recently expanded its Bahamian activities to include a grant program, ongoing training and curriculum and engagement opportunities in schools.
“Blue Atlas feels incredibly fortunate for both of these partnerships. The enthusiasm we have seen in Abaco and in new farmers as they have rebuilt from such devastation is inspiring. Our aim is to work with those attempting to learn new methods and jump over that first hurdle to begin successfully. Through are programming we have been able to provide trainings and financial support for those new and young initiatives to begin. Professor Sheehan’s expertise was an instrumental step in planting the seed, so to speak, for aquaculture on an island whose main industry circles around fishing.” Kali Kirkendall, Founder and Executive Director of The Blue Atlas Project
In June 2022 we were delighted to start working in partnership with these fantastic organisations and contribute to their work in the Abaco Islands. To help enhance food production, we will be facilitating access to Israel’s unique agricultural expertise through a combination of advisory services alongside face-to-face and virtual training. In keeping with local demand, this work will focus on aquaculture and compost.
As part of the first phase of this program, Prof. Sheenan Harpaz travelled to Abaco on VIP’s behalf to assess the situation in the Abaco Islands, offer advice and deliver training to local stakeholders. Prof. Harpaz is one of Israel’s leading aquaculture experts. An Adjunct Associate Professor at Bar Ilan and Ben Gurion Universities, he has also held a broad a range of positions at Israel’s national agricultural research centre over the course of his +30 year career (including Head of the Aquaculture Department, Head of the Institute of Animal Sciences and Deputy Director for R&D).
‘I’m delighted to be in Abaco and able to contribute to this important work‘, explained Prof. Harpaz after arriving in Marsh Harbour. ‘Two and half years later, reminders of the damage caused by Hurricane Dorian are still all too common. I’m glad to be able to share some of Israel’s expertise to help increase the efficiency of aquaponics and aquaculture in Abaco. This, in turn, can contribute to the food and income security of farmers, families and entrepreneurs.’
Over the course of the coming months, Prof. Harpaz and other Israeli experts will be providing remote training and advisory services to The Blue Atlas Project and other stakeholders to help enhance local agricultural activities.