Mama’s Green Garden has revolutionised the agriculture industry in Trinidad and Tobago through hydroponics. The practice known as the growing of plants without soil, instead uses water and nutrients to germinate plants.
Karim Baksh and his son Zahir Baksh, former engineers at Petrotrin, said their love for agriculture encouraged them to delve into it. “I have always had a passion for agriculture; I started practising it at a very young age,” Karim attested. Paying homage to his mother and mother-in–law whom he used to affectionately called “Ma” and “Mama,” Karim decided to name the company after them since they introduced him to agriculture and shared his passion for it. The father and son started off as traditional farmers, planting in their backyard and selling to the local market. All that changed, however, when Karim read about the hydroponics practice in the USA, and decided to try his hand in it. “I started off with five or six pipes trying all kinds of vegetables and experimenting, when we finally got it right, we stopped the traditional agriculture completely and took this on.” He stated that, “Mama’s Green Garden was hammered out from the arrival of experience.”
The increasing demand for the high-quality produce encouraged the farmers to expand their business with the help of the Wendy Samsundar-Beharry, manager of Agricultural Development Bank (ADB). At present, Mama’s Green Garden specialises in lettuce, pakchoi and choy sum pakchoi and has two farms in Barrackpore their hometown, with one spanning 1,5000 square feet and the other 60,000 square feet. Producing over 40,000 heads of lettuce monthly, they are one of the largest hydroponic farms in Trinidad and Tobago supplying major supermarkets across the country, such as Hi-Lo and Tru Valu and restaurants including Shanghai Experience. They also have their own water supply and storage system; however, they remain a family-oriented company. With a faster turnover, better control of the plant, and most importantly organic and healthier, Baksh said hydroponics is more profitable than traditional agriculture. “Hydroponics is giving the plants what it needs minus what it does not need,” states Zahir. When asked their recipe for success, Zahir replied, “Quality is what sets us apart, we are always leading the pack with our marketing skills and our post harvesting techniques.
“Our packaging for example, we are the ones who started placing lettuce in a clear plastic bag and putting a label on it so the customers could identify with us. We even took it a step further and placed a barcode on it.” Although one of the largest hydroponic farms in the country, the Baksh family has experienced some drawbacks, labour being the biggest problem. While they train and educate farmers in this form of agriculture, the Bakshs said they have time and time again battled with labour problems. With only eight people employed on the farms, they find it difficult sometimes to maintain everything. They said the issue lies with the hesitance of people to enter into the agriculture sector and the stigma still attached to it. For the past couple months the entrepreneurs have been trying to receive electricity for the extension of one of their farms but to no avail. They state, however, that these drawbacks would not affect them as they will continue to move forward. “We will always be trying to improve and expand,” Zahir said. Being one of the largest hydroponic farms in the country, he states that they have pioneered the way for farmers and have become leaders in the industry. “Hydroponics is the solution, it is sustainable and organic.” He urges more farmers to get into the practice since he views it as the solution to food security. “Anyone can get into it with the proper training and you must have the passion for agriculture” karim said. Speaking to the T&T Guardian, Samsundar-Beharry said the high level of expertise needed and experience have been shown by the entrepreneurs. “In Mama’s Green Garden, you also see passion and purpose and that’s what drives them forward.”