POP Bonaire: Rural Development Program: 2014-2018
Increasing concern over Bonaire’s dependence on dive tourism and the importation of food products has led the government to push for the sustainable development of Bonaire’s rural areas. The “2014-2027 Policy Vision for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries”, developed at the request of the Public Entity Bonaire (Openbaar Lichaam Bonaire) highlights the pressing need for the expansion of the island’s agricultural and fisheries sector (LVV) in order to boost local food production as well as diversify the island’s tourism product. While Bonaire’s leeward shore has been developed to accommodate the thousands of tourists that visit the island each year, the rural areas have for the most part been overlooked. The neglected agricultural areas in the countryside are a stark contrast to the western coast fringed with hotels, shops and restaurants.
Agriculture on Bonaire has always been severely limited due to the island’s dry climate and unpredictable rainy seasons. As a result each year 95% of the food needed to feed both locals and visitors is imported. Goat farming has dominated rural life throughout Bonaire’s history, however currently more than half (65%) of the island’s 32,000 goats roam free. Free-roaming goats and their endless appetite for young shoots and seedlings have emerged as one of the biggest threats to the island’s natural biodiversity. Overgrazing not only threatens local vegetation and the fauna that relies on these plants, but the resulting wind and water erosion threatens the health of Bonaire’s coral reefs.
Stakeholders and “kunukeros” (farmers) from two rural areas, Rincon and Bara di Karta, attended workshops organized by the Department of Spatial Planning and Development (DRO) and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture (formerly the Ministry of Economic Affairs) in 2012 and 2013 to identify bottlenecks and opportunities for rural development. These workshops resulted in the development of the Rural Development Program (POP) for Bonaire, which is financed by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture through their Nature Fund (Natuurgelden) initiative. The aim of POP Bonaire is to revitalize Bonaire’s rural areas by stimulating entrepreneurship, self-reliance and sustainable agriculture. A total of forty projects are being carried out within four main categories: a knowledge center, sustainable goat husbandry, rural tourism development and strengthening of entrepreneurship. The Program is lead by Jan Jaap van Almenkerk (Wayaká Advies) and Sherwin Pourier (BAAB BV) and has broad support and cooperation of stakeholders such as Kriabon, TCB, Mangazina di Rei, SELIBON, Chamber of Commerce, Integral District Approach, and local schools.
Knowledge Center “Sembra Futuro”: The knowledge centre, “Sembra Futuro”, which is under development, is intended to become a hub of activity, information and education for agriculture, horticulture and livestock farming. Based at a site owned by the Ministry of Agriculture, where twenty hectares of good soil will allow plots of land to be leased to agricultural entrepreneurs for the production of fruit, vegetables or cattle fodder. Farmers will not only benefit from access to cultivable land and water but will also be encouraged to join forces and share expertise, equipment and surveillance. Knowledge about agriculture and horticulture is being made accessible through a series of workshops as well as practical handbooks. To date eight workshops have been organized providing information on the small-scale cultivation of fruit and vegetables. An estimated 300 school children have attended horticulture workshops organized in collaboration with Mangazina di Rei. Several unemployed youngsters have also received training in agriculture and the use of agricultural machinery in collaboration with the Society and Care Directorate.
Sustainable Goat Farming: Since 2015 researchers from the University of Wageningen have been evaluating the potential for sustainable goat husbandry. Recommendations include the professionalization of goat husbandry in order to make it sustainable. The resulting action plan - which has the support of local kunukeros - includes improved management of goats through a central registration, improved breed selection, production of quality meat products labelled “Platina di Boneiru”, production of a central cattle feed and fenced-in goats and will take 5 years to implement. Fifty of Bonaire’s 175 goat farmers have already attended workshops on goat management and lamb production, and 14 participants have attended a course on professional goat farming. Access to high quality feed is an essential component towards sustainability as it will allow kunukeros to keep goats fenced instead of letting them graze freely. POP Bonaire has carried out a high-quality feed pilot project over the past few years with the participation of eight local goat farmers. Two of the eight grasses tested for fresh cattle feed and hay show promise.
Rural Tourism Development: Bonaire’s rural areas - Bara di Karta, Rincon and Tras di Montaña - have great potential in attracting tourists if they are revitalized and made accessible. Rincon is the island’s oldest village and has a strong cultural identity. Bara di Karta has a typical Bonairean agrarian landscape with many kunukus and some historic plantations. POP Bonaire aims to facilitate the economic development of the countryside through the creation of tourist routes and by supporting the refurbishment of old farms into tourist attractions. Several tourist routes were set up in cooperation with kunukeros and include four car routes, eight walking trails and five mountain bike routes [see map]. Paper maps that highlight these routes and provide information about the culture and nature in the area are being distributed to visitors. POP Bonaire also supports a number of projects that are making the region more attractive to tourists such as the clean-up of debris and car wrecks along tourist routes and the installation of traditional cactus fences. Farmers have begun to renovate farms due to an increase in visitors in the island’s countryside. Several attractions are now offered, including a kunuku tour and a tea house.
Strengthen entrepreneurship: Many locals in Bonaire’s rural areas have ideas for their own business in agriculture or kunuku tourism, but the vast majority do not have the funds or expertise to turn these ideas into successful businesses. POP Bonaire aims to stimulate rural economic development by offering entrepreneurs advice and support in the development and implementation of their business plan. So far, 115 consultations have been held with entrepreneurs, and 10 business plans have been approved and supported with an in-kind donation. As many entrepreneurs lack the necessary funds to start up a business, POP Bonaire has set up an Entrepreneurs fund which is managed by Stichting Ondernemersfonds Bonaire. Entrepreneurs with an approved business plan can request a loan. To be selected, entrepreneurs must bring onto the market an innovative and commercial product. Punta Blanku Farms, which delivers daily fresh free-range eggs to island supermarkets, received money from the fund to purchase a machine that converts seawater into drinking water for its chickens.
POP Bonaire is an ambitious initiative, but with clear objectives and the support of local stakeholders its chances of success are very high. The next step towards the completion of this Program will be the set-up of the “Sembra Futuro” knowledge center and the implementation of the plans for the professionalization of goat farming. The goal of producing 40% of all fresh fruit and vegetables consumed on the island may take many years to reach, but the encouragement towards self-sufficiency and sustainable development within the island’s rural areas is already showing promise.
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 The LVV (Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries) department is a government department within the Spatial Planning and Development Department.