The Ministry of Agriculture has blasted “unpatriotic importers” for flooding the local market with cheap, inferior food products from places such as China.
The tongue-lashing came this morning from the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Esworth Reid, who was deputizing for Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick at this morning’s pilot launch of a market information system (MIS) geared at reducing the country’s food import bail.
“Unpatriotic importers in the distributive trade who because of the lack of dissemination of market information, even if they know, may claim and use as an excuse that they were not aware of the level of local supply, and would choose to go as far as places like China, and other far-off lands, to import an abundance of cheaper produce, both in price and quality, to flood the market,” he told stakeholders at the Radisson Aquatica Resort.
The permanent secretary suggested that such acts sometimes placed local producers under pressure and forced them out of the market.
“Some consumers also become frustrated when they have to go from supermarket to supermarket in search of, and cannot find, a particular agricultural produce because of the shortage brought on by the fact that farmers jump on the bandwagon and produce what they think people would buy, rather than what consumers actually demand,” Reid declared.
Acknowledging the need for the sector to grow and be sustainable, Reid said the launch of the MIS project, which will cost about $1 million over the next year, should solve the problem of lack of pertinent information.
He noted that the new market information system would eliminate the guesswork and ad hoc manner that accompanies activities in the sector, including marketing of agricultural produce.
“At present there is no existing mechanism that would allow farmers easy access to information with respect to what is going on in the wider scope of the sector,” he said.
“Further to this, there seems to be little or no networking between the farmers and other stakeholders in the sector,” Reid added, noting that effective networking has to include not only forming associations and societies, but sharing information.
Reid said even if the farmers did not share information with each other, it was imperative they did so with the ministry.
The senior public servant contended that when information was passed on, the ministry could properly analyze the needs of the market –– and farmers –– in order to make the appropriate provisions for the way forward.
“The ministry trying to get information from the farmers in Barbados is likened to a man sitting in a dentist’s chair having two or three teeth extracted without the use of any anesthesia; partly because there is a fear among farmers that the information the ministry collects would be used for tax purposes or would be shared with a competitor,” he lamented.
However, Reid assured all stakeholders that there were laws against any Government department sharing statistical information collected on anyone, with others –– or even other Government divisions.
Consultant Brian Linton informed the gathering that the MIS could also be used to make importers, farmers and consumers aware of trends, produce availability, volume and prices.