Abandoning the agricultural sector in Barbados would be a mistake, rather new policies should be put in place to take this sector to the next level. That is the view of chairman of the National Agricultural Commission, Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, who delivered the lecture entitled “The Critical Importance of the Agricultural Sector to the Sustainable Economic Growth in Barbados” at the Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA) meeting held at the St. Michael School, Martindales Road, St. Michael on Wednesday night.
“There are those in our society who believe that we should abandon agriculture and invest our energies and resources in a true service economy based on tourism and financial services,” said Dr. Brathwaite. Disagreeing with this point of view, Dr. Brathwaite stated that “it would be a political, economic, social and environmental mistake to abandon agriculture”.
Among the reasons he provided for retaining the agricultural sector were maintaining the beauty and environmental health of this nation and producing foods locally would reduce the food import bill and amount of foreign exchange leaving the country. He added that local crops instead of a diet of fast food can lead to a change in the Barbadian diet, reduce chronic non-communicable diseases and lead to food and nutrition security.
Dr. Brathwaite stressed that producing bulk sugar at a cost of $3000 a tonne and selling it at just over $900 per tonne is no longer profitable for Barbados. Calling for this aspect of colonialism to end, he said that what resources should be focused on is the production of food such as root crops, fish, fruits and vegetables and Blackbelly lamb, not on sugar to export to overseas markets.
The Director Emeritus of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture said new policies are needed to change the agricultural sector but this can only occur and succeed if there is a national commitment to the effort. He said there must be an introduction of new technologies; new marketing arrangements as farmers in particular need a wholesale market to sell their produce; a market information system; an enhanced technical and managerial capacity of farmers since farmers need to see their work as a business.
Dr. Brathwaite also suggested that there be new investment in food storage and green house technology. He added that corn and cassava should be grown locally for animal feed. “We need a modern Ministry of Agriculture or a Ministry of Food that focuses on food production, quality and safety,in addition to more research on local food needs,” he contended.
As he called for greater linkages between the agricultural and tourism sector in terms of serving more local cuisine using locally grown crops, he said “those who think we should abandon the agricultural sector should think again.” Dr. Brathwaite also said that praedial larceny is a serious issue that needed to be addressed in this society.
Speaking on this issue during the discussion session, director of the National Council for Science and Technology, Dr. Lennox Chandler noted what is needed is enforcement. “When you look back over the years, very few people have been prosecuted for praedial larceny. It is not taken seriously enough. People are crying out for this new piece of legislation but we already have legislation on the books that we need to enforce. There is no seriousness on the part of the police to enforce the legislation, so whatever legislation is put in place and it is not enforced, it won’t work,” said Dr. Chandler.