Call to allocate more funds to agriculture

There still seems to be some doubt in the minds of policy makers about the role of agriculture in national development, and this is vividly seen in the small allocation given to Ministries of Agriculture.

This was the assertion made by Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, a former Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and former Barbados Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. He was at the time speaking during the opening of the First Biennial Botanical Symposium and Exhibition, held recently at the PEG Farm and Nature Reserve at the Easy Hall Plantation in St. Joseph.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, governments apportion 6.3% of their national income to agriculture. In Africa in general, it’s about 5%. In Asia, it’s about 6.5%. In Latin America, it is about 2.5%, (but) in the Caribbean, it is 0.9%,” Brathwaite asserted.

He stressed, “Your priorities are determined by how you allocate your financial resources to fund your development and if you put 0.9% of your resources into agriculture, you are sending a very simple signal – that agriculture is not important”.

“Consequently, I think there is some difficulty in moving forward unless there is appropriate financing for agriculture. The minuscule contribution to agriculture in my view, is based on a general misunderstanding of the real contribution of agriculture to development,” he added.

Brathwaite pointed out that there is an apparent desire on the part of some to abandon the sector and invest in the more glossy initiatives in development, such as tourism and technology for example, without recognising that agriculture is fundamental to development.

“If we do not understand agriculture as it is in its totality, we fail to understand the backward and the forward linkages that agriculture brings to an economy,” he maintained.

Pointing out that food production needs to double in the next twenty-five years to meet world demand, Brathwaite stressed that for those producing food, their capacity to produce that food has to double. Whereas, if you import food, you are vulnerable, as you are dependent on those who produce food to feed you and as such food imports must also double.

“We have a situation here in Barbados, which is particularly worrying. When we did the analysis some years ago, we had a food import bill of $700 million dollars. The other side of that coin is that we have land in our country that is overrun with River Tamarind and cow itch and we are importing $700 million dollars’ worth of food. That is not a pretty picture and it is one which we must address as a nation, because food security is not only about food, it is also about sovereignty,” Brathwaite indicated. (RSM)

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