Earlier this week a news article in the Trinidad Express newspaper spoke of the anger of some farmers there over a proposal by their government to lease huge tracks of land in neighbouring Guyana for agricultural production.
According to that article, the farmers felt the government’s priority was wrong, since there were numerous farmers in the twin-island republic who could achieve the production required with a little more help from the state.
Additionally, the farmers questioned how the measure would assist their country in reducing its annual food import bill, since anything produced in Guyana would have to be imported, in effect adding to the bill.
On the face of it, the position of the farmers make absolute sense. Home drums should always beat first, we have been taught, and each state has a duty first to its own people before it starts spreading the proceeds of the fatted calf to all and sundry.
However, a closer inspection would suggest that the concern by the Trinidadian farmers, which we believe would be the same if the Government of Barbados even hinted at such a plan, points to a larger failing that seems endemic in the region — the tendency to see division first, instead of unity.
Part of the problem
We are not farmers, but reason and logic would suggest that part of the problem with many of the industrial and commercial enterprises in any Caribbean island, stems from the scale of operations, and this is particularly so when it comes to farming.
Take our local sugar industry for instance. There is now the accepted position that the decline in the sugar industry has impacted food crop farming because the scale of importation of fertilisers, for instance, made for more attractive pricing.
Today, however, with a sugar industry producing around 15,000 tonnes of sugar as opposed to 100,000 tones farmers are not able to exert any substantial leverage in terms of the price they pay for input. They buy too little to have any real clout.
Our leaders, and not just those of the political variety, should have been spending a lot more time over the last two decades promoting regional togetherness instead of the insularity that characterises so much of how we operate.
If achieving food security in the region, and by a process of extrapolation, in each island, requires us to exploit the fertile land of a partner, then we all should be working together to see what mechanisms need to be put in place to achieve it.
By now, as a people we really should have gone well beyond the narrowness of the approaches that have served to keep us back for so long. We accept that the playing field is becoming increasingly level, but if because of the traditionally huge sum Barbados has spent on education we are able to export “brains” to our neighbouring territories, why should we allow insularity to hold us back.
If Trinidad is able to supply the energy (at least from traditional sources) to drive our economies, why should we see it as fattening Trinidadian pockets when our economies are all the stronger for it.
For too long we have been working against each other and ourselves and it is time for a re-education of the West Indian mind. If we don’t the objection to growing food in Guyana will see us all starving — metaphorically, of course.