The private sector is failing agriculture miserably. What’s more, it is partly to blame for Barbados’ annual untenable billion-dollar import bill.
That was the frank assessment of chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul, who lambasted the hotel and tourism sector, as well as major local food importers.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY this morning in Queen’s Park, he stated adamantly that Government could put in place as many incentives as they liked into agricultural production, but if at the same time private sector agencies were not willing to invest in the sector it would be all for nought.
Calling the sectors disrespectful to local agriculture, Paul said there continued to be challenges with them because “they want easy money”.
“. . . And our private sector doesn’t seem to understand that if our country is to develop along sound lines, if we are to stop this current leakage of foreign exchange out of this country, they need to also invest in the agricultural sector. We are here to work with the hotel and tourism sector to show them what we can do, that is why we have an Agrofest to show them what we are doing so they can get their own ideas and we work with them,” he said.
“We have had this type of disrespect for the agriculture sector being persistent for too long and we need to move away from that kind of thing and I think the agriculture sector needs to be given the pride of place that it should be. And if we say that we are going to do something for it – let’s do it.
“Too many instances I’ve seen where there has been more talk than action, there have been more promises rather than implementation. If we are going to be serious about agriculture production, it needs to have a market; farmers need to have a market where they can sell their commodities and to sell their goods,” he said.
Paul further stated that all the discussions about backward linkages being created were just “lip service” and that no one was actually creating these linkages. Moreover, the CEO stated that what was needed was for hotels to begin investing in farms.
Stating there was one establishment which invested in a farm, he reiterated earleir calls fo supermarkets to invest as well.
Paul, who is also the MP for St Michael West-Central added: “That is the problem we have in this country, where people want easy money and they do not want to put in the sacrifice and our private sector is guilty of that. Despite whatever incentives Government has given they seem to
want more – and that isn’t going to work,” he told Barbados TODAY.
And he called for sanctions to be imposed for the key sectors like the hotel and tourism that compel performance when it came to purchasing local agriculture products.
“There is a tariff structure in place for the importation of commodities generally which gives us some protection. But I really think businesses . . . which came into this country and wanted this and that these people are not willing to say what they are prepared to do for the productive sector [and] they should not be allowed to sprout without putting down on paper to say what they are willing to do and how we can hold them to account when you fail to do these things. They need to be penalties,” he said.
“For instance, we had a huge problem every year with commodities coming in, for example for the school meals sector and somehow being leaked onto supermarket shelves to compete with local agriculture products – there should be some penalties. And I am saying there are people in the ministry who need to get up and do their work to ensure if they find a commodity that has come for a particular sector and is somehow leaked to the other sector there should be penalties.
“In Jamaica the Sandals groups don’t operate like that. They are given the concession, that is true, but if any inspector goes in and finds a product that is brought into hotels and it is leaked onto the consumer sector they pay penalties. The problem that is we have these handshakes in this country and people seem to think, ‘You know, he is my friend, I can buy off this and ignore this’. We have to stop that kind of nonsense because when we do that, what we are doing is compromising people’s livelihoods in this country and we need to stop it. All I [am] asking is that civil servants do their jobs. When they see something going wrong get up and do something about it,” Paul said candidly.