The Barbados private sector is an obstacle in the thrust for increased food production; agriculture deserves attention similar to tourism; and there is no town and country in this little island.
Member of Parliament James Paul thinks recognition of these factors is essential for success in the drive towards Barbados’ feeding itself in more food items.
Paul was a member of a panel last night in the final insertion of a Barbados Museum & Historical Society lecture series on food security titled Big-Grain Rice And Beyond. Moderated by David Ellis, other members of the panel comprised farmer and agro-processor Richard Armstrong, geneticist and UWI Centre For Food Security And Entrepreneurship director Professor Leonard O’Garro and agriculturalist and former Barbados Agricultural Society president Keith Laurie.
Under the subject for last night’s discussion, Not Another Blade Of Grass, Paul, president of Barbados Agriculture Society, broadsided the island’s private sector for ignoring the realities of Barbados and selfishly pushing a mostly American agenda on food consumption while neglecting local producers.
“Every single thing that the private sector has done in this country has undermined every single thing that Government has tried to put in place in order to enhance food security for this country,” he said at the Steel Shed last night.
The representative for St Michael West Central zeroed in on the fast-food industry, which he charged “has copied every single thing that the United States has purported as a fast-food industry without thinking: does it apply to the [local] environment?”.
He cited an example of local food producer and fellow panellist, Armstrong, investing millions of dollars in a sweet potato chip-making factory: “And yet we have a business community who refuses to even think that should be part of their business model . . . . They prefer to import something from overseas. It might be cheaper, but less tasty, and what do we do? We prop up the economies and the agricultural sectors of other countries.”
Contending that some businesses used foreign exchange for purchases of food items that could be replaced by local produce, he said: “Our private sector has to be called to account.
“All we are asking you is to buy the products . . . . We have to ask ourselves: is the business community in this country really serious?
“Unless they examine the way in which they operate, food security in itself is going to be an elusive dream,” Paul said.
Without naming any sector or administration, Paul asserted: “We have a bias in this country. We talk agriculture but we don’t do it . . . . We can feel good in taking over a $100 million and pushing it into the tourism industry every year. However, there are certain basic things that we need to accept in agriculture.”
He identified financing of agricultural research as fundamental.
“When it comes to the area of seeds, it is sad in this country where we had the sugar cane breeding station; we have let it run to ruin. Why? Because of the fact we have not recognized the importance of research, the necessity of investment in that research.”
In this regard he suggested diversion from traditional budgetary funding.
“Maybe what we need is to take away a part of, say the Ministry of Agriculture budget in relation to the [funding] that goes into the area of the plant section and let us do some research in terms of seed varieties.”
He thinks that more can be done with the world-renowned Barbados Blackbelly sheep, describing it as “a unique animal”.
“To what extent have we used the opportunity to structure an industry where we can actually exploit the genetic possibilities of the Barbados Blackbelly sheep?” Paul asked, contending that agriculture activities such as research would make farming attractive to young Barbadians.
“We speak in two mouths,” Paul said as he faulted Barbadians for wanting the lifestyle of developed Western countries, but not appreciating it is achieved through setting conditions suitable to the country.
For this reason he dismissed the notion of an urban and rural Barbados.
“When we are talking about food security in the context of Barbados, we have to understand that this constant attempt to segment Barbados into town and countryside is really farcical,” he said.
“In a 166 square-mile island, it is inconceivable that we keep on talking about a rural and an urban dichotomy. It does not exist . . . . We cannot escape the fact that it is the responsibility of each and every individual citizen in this country to try to ensure that the question of food security is a concern
to each and every single Barbadian.”