The Chamber News & Views will regularly portray an interview with a local entrepreneur to share with us what the Aruban government can do to stimulate and promote entrepreneurship. In this first edition, we are featuring Mr. Ari Lichtenstein, owner of Green Vibes Sustainability, Land & Energy NV.
What does Green Vibes do?
Ari Lichtenstein (AL): Green Vibes started as the Land Farm in 2009, most people know it as Nos Cunuco. Green Vibes is located in Shete, Santa Cruz and it does sustainable agriculture. It also aims at entering the green energy market. I am still experimenting with which products to offer the local market, I started with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers and I want to see what else I can do. Right now, I am also trying out two windmills on my property to see how they function; this is aimed at the green energy market. The whole property will run on green energy provided by these two windmills or more and if it works out well, I can offer the windmills to the local market as well. My main focus remains the plantation and how to expand my products and make it more accessible to the public and of course profitable to me.
Can you tell us about your products?
AL: At the moment I have 12 greenhouses where I grow tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers through hydroponics, which is a system that allows me to grow plants without soil by supplying all needed nutrients in the plant’s water supply. I am using volcanic glass and coconut fiber as a medium. I am also growing various types of fruit trees, which grow traditionally in the soil. Aside from a couple of local fruits such as mango, passion fruit and tamarind, I am also experimenting with various exotic fruits from Asia that grow very well here. I am growing various apples and berries, one that even has cotton candy taste. The trees are not big enough yet for me to offer a constant supply, but I know I will be able to do so in the near future. And then, I am also farming tilapia fish, which will be a byproduct of an aqua culture green house in the future for Green Vibes; I think that this is a product which can be very feasible in Aruba and I would like to offer it once my products become completely organic.
Why did you start this business?
AL: There is a large demand on the local market for fresh produce at a reasonable price. I have done a lot of research and I know I can supply that need. I have been selling my products to supermarkets and a couple of restaurants now and the overall feedback I get is positive.
Is there room for sustainable agriculture in Aruba?
AL: Yes, there is. Right now I am supplying somewhere between 10-20% of the local market. And there are continuously more entrepreneurs coming into this business every day, and I am not even referring to those who plant at home, on a much smaller scale. But this is not an easy business in Aruba; even with the right equipment there are many challenges to keep supply consistent. Especially water is a constant challenge. I have built an entire infrastructure for my water supply. I have been doing this for three years now and I have learned a lot along the way, what works and what doesn’t. I still learning but I am in a phase where I know where I am going with the business, and I know that to expand I have to take it slowly but surely.
Do you know about the water & greenhouse construction project at Kibaima?
AL: I have heard of this project but I do not know a lot about it. As far as I know, WEB will start selling back wash water which was always disposed back in the sea at a reduced price to cultivators, which is a good initiative. The issue is that they will supply it only to an area close to the water plant, and this creates a competitive advantage to those who will have direct access to this water. Others, like me, will have no access to this water, unless I invest in a way to obtain this water, such as a truck or another means to transport this water to my plantation in Shete. I have invested a lot in my property, my whole infrastructure is built here, I cannot just move it. I am all for competition but it has to be a healthy one.
(Red. This is a project of WEB Aruba NV, NV ELMAR, DLLV, DOW, DIP & Dezhi, where the Government will provide cultivators, local and international entrepreneurs, lease land to build green houses to grow produce especially for the local market. Participants will obtain lease land, electricity and water at a reduced price. At the moment a feasibility study is being conducted.)
Do you think the government is doing enough to help develop entrepreneurship in agriculture?
AL: No, not really. There is so much to be done but I just want to leave it to that.
Do you think the government has to help local businesses become more competitive? Or do you think the government should not get involved, and just leave it to private investors?
AL: In my case, I have done it all by myself. I do think that if the government wants the island to become more self-sufficient in terms of agriculture that it should start helping local growers that are already here more with the various challenges they face instead of future growers to come. By investing in a study abroad does not make sense to me if it can be done locally at my facility with accurate results to here. I have approached them on several occasions and wrote letters regarding some sort of subsidy. I believe a subsidy could really help me out with all my high costs to research and improve my production. I can think of several ways that they could help me. But for now, I will take it one step at a time.
Do you think there is room for growth in the energy market for Aruba?
AL: Yes, there is, but again, it is trial and error before the business really becomes profitable. There are various entrepreneurs introducing new innovations and the opportunities are present. I think it is just a matter to see what works and what doesn’t, the same thing I am doing with the windmills and with the plantation.
If you were the government, what would you do to make Aruba more sustainable? (in terms of energy and agriculture)
AL: Funds need to be made available for this, like you have in the European Union, for example to develop more sustainable and energy projects so that Aruba can become a more sustainable society. At the moment it is all up to the private investor to take all the risks.
Is there anything you would like to add?
No, not really, just that I appreciate it that the Chamber is taking this interview to create more awareness on this issue.