EDITORIAL - Boosting agriculture industry vital

Agrofest 2017 will be launched next week Friday and once again national focus will be turned to the potential of the local agriculture sector. Various farmers and vendors will have their products and animals on display, as thousands of Barbadians and some visitors converge on Queen’s Park. Yet, despite its popularity, Agrofest is not enough. Barbados’ agriculture industry requires more for it to develop into a major economic generator.

One move that is available to every single Barbadian, especially those responsible for purchasing in the food retail and hospitality sectors, is to seek out goods and produce from Barbadian farmers first, before going the route of importing foreign foods. In fact, on several occasions, there have been outcries against the purchasing decisions of these groups as being directly responsible for the poor returns for farmers.

Still, while it can be agreed that local agriculture should be given priority focus, one could also wonder whether the farmers play a part in securing their fate. The question then becomes: Are local farmers able to adequately fulfil the needs of Barbadian consumers? In the past, farmers have fallen down with regard to covering product demand and in the area of marketing. This was a direct result of poor communication within the farming community to ensure that shortages or gluts do not occur, and also due to a lack of organisation and failure to capitalise as a unified bargaining entity. In recent years though, some steps have been made towards improving these deficiencies, including establishing a register of farmers to improve communication and collaboration with supermarkets to get products on shelves.

Another area that can be improved on is providing more acreage for agriculture production. Land owners, along with government, can be encouraged to lease land for agricultural use, thereby promoting the cultivation of more fruits trees, for instance. As Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley pointed out recently at the launch of a ‘Planting Pride’ initiative, planting fruits trees could put a dent in the food import bill and also contribute to the diversity of the cultural expression – through products like wines and liqueurs – as they help to create new revenue streams.

Most importantly, for Barbados’ agriculture to grow, there must be room for growth, and as such stakeholders must consider a wider external market.

Speaking at a forum recently, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) Victor M. Villalobos stated that the Caribbean – including Barbados – can become the world’s food basket, citing the region has key features which make it a key production area. He however indicated that more resources should be allocated to research, development, and innovation; better use should be made of biotechnology, nanotechnology, geo-intelligence, information technologies; and more specialists and researchers should be trained. In addition, he pointed to the need to
encourage voluntary associations among groups such as the small, medium, and large scale producers, the public and private sectors, and academia.

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