An agriculture specialist has suggested that the agricultural sector here is in need of a value-added component if farmers were to see noticeable returns.
In addition, Jean Lowry, Inter-American Institute for the Coorporation on Agriculture (IICA) representative to Barbados, said there were some issues within the sector that needed to be addressed urgently if farmers and the country were to capitalize on various opportunities.
In a wide-ranging interview on the sector with Barbados TODAY, Lowry, who has spent the past two years here, said the opportunities to be gained from the Blackbelly sheep and herbs and spices were not being capitalized on as she thought they should.
She said Barbados was spending too much on imported feed for the Blackbelly sheep, adding that in the end farmers were unable to make a noticeable profit when they sold the animals.
“So what is missing is this real move towards using local forages,” she said.
There is also a need for a feedlot where the animals could go to be “fattened up for slaughter”, said Lowry.“I know BADMC has been looking at trying to put a feedlot in place and if so then that would be a nice piece because it would take it from being sort of a hobby or a small producer to what the purpose is,” she added.
The next piece of the puzzle, she said, was to earn money from the skin of the sheep.
“We have the abattoirs here. What is missing is the tannery (a place where animal skins are processed). It would make high-end leather bags for women and fantastic shoes,” explained Lowry.
Exactly a year ago, then Minister of Small Business, Industry and Rural development Denis Kellman announced that government was actively pursuing funding to construct a tannery on the island.
Lowry said: “Until that piece is dealt with then its really hard and its perhaps not entirely fair to young people to encourage them to go into an industry and then say you are not really going to be able to make it economically viable because we don’t have the infrastructure in place to actually fill the gap”.
She said, however, it should not be left up to the Government to fill all the gaps, adding that the private sector had a major role to play in putting some infrastructures in place and thereby opening up opportunities for the rest of players within the sector.
“The same with the value chain for the herbs and spices. There are so many different issues involved when you start deconstructing the value chains and start seeing what really needs to be done. The use of protected agriculture systems is very appropriate for growing herbs and spices. It has a number of factors that allow for there to be higher yields, better control over quality and yet there are not that many people using protected agriculture here,” said Lowry.
She said there also needed to be a shift in mentality when it came to agriculture, adding that the high cost of materials and facilities were also issues that should be addressed.
Lowry also pointed out that some large-scale farmers who were seeking to improve their operations were not able to access the needed capital to do so despite having all the requirements in place to get a loan.
“That is a piece that is missing,” she said.