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Meet the Banco Popular Big Idea Challenge Finalists: Agro Evolución

Agro Evolución, a Banco Popular Big Idea Challenge Finalist, is a nonprofit in the pilot stage, headquartered in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, and led by Juan Negrón.

The Problem

In Puerto Rico, 90 percent of consumed food is produced off the island. Local dishes, even staples like rice and beans, are typically imported. Most farmers use outdated methods, and the profession has been deteriorating due to the abandonment of agriculture.

As a final blow, Hurricane Maria crushed farms, and many farmers lost nearly all their seeds. This includes farmers in Barranquitas, an area rich in farmland, where crops like plantains and bananas are grown. Unemployment in Barranquitas is higher than in other areas on the island, rendering Maria’s impact even more devastating.

The Solution

The Interamerican University Barranquitas (Inter Barranquitas) and its Center for Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture are providing local farmers with biotechnology tools, starting with healthy seeds for plantains and bananas.

They will select the best seeds from the Agriculture Department of Puerto Rico, and then propagate healthy sprouts in a to-be-built lab before distributing them to farmers. Throughout each year, these plants and seeds will save farmers approximately three months of work, potentially enabling two harvests per year instead of one.

In addition to these seeds, Inter Barranquitas will provide farmer training, student training in the lab, and educational programs to encourage youth to become farmers. After this initial phase, the group will expand to other crops such as cacao to reach a full commercial scale. Ultimately, food self reliance will help establish the stability needed to move Puerto Rico away from crisis and toward a resilient economy.

Market Opportunity

  • Farms in Puerto Rico have the potential to be more than three times as productive as farms in the continental US.
  • People in Puerto Rico spend more money on food than those in the US. (The Guardian) Plantains alone bring $80.5 million to the market, more than any other crop, followed by bananas and coffee. (Civil Eats)
  • 75 percent of Puerto Ricans—approximately 7 million people in the US and on the island—prefer locally produced food, even if it is more expensive.

Existing Partnerships

Inter Barranquitas currently partners with numerous organizations to reach various technical goals:

  • Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture’s Innovation Fund for Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Development
  • Municipality of Barranquitas; Municipality of Orocovis; Municipality of Aibonito
  • Pennsylvania State University

Organization Goals

Inter Barranquitas seeks to achieve the following goals:

  • Provide 50 farmers with 100 seeds each by June 2019
  • Scale its lab space to reflect current techniques and optimize production

Partnership Goals

To reach the organization goals mentioned above, Inter Barranquitas seeks partnerships to:

  • Gain research advice from other academic institutions
  • Develop a full business plan that incorporates intellectual property rights for existing and future crops
  • Connect with investors to support a full facility for growing the seed and plant propagation business
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