A top Government official today warned that Barbados’ agriculture sector was now at the point of crisis, and its food security under severe threat.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Esworth Reid, issued the grim assessment as he addressed the official launch of the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator Programme, which aims to attract young people to the industry.
While welcoming the European Union-funded initiative, Reid pointed out that recent “reliable” studies had shown that the greater part of our farming community in Barbados and the wider Caribbean was over the age of 60.
Therefore, “if a concerted and serious effort is not made to replenish this creative segment of the farming community, our agriculture sector and our food security in the very near future will be seriously compromised,” he said.
Reid further cautioned that the agriculture sector had either reached or was bordering “crisis status”, while noting that there were a number of young people who were eager to come up with innovative and workable ideas that could help the sector.
However, he said some people “in management and decision making positions” were quick to dismiss their ideas and say they cannot work, without even considering them.
“Such an attitude is non-productive and people who are placed in positions of management of any form of decision making that can adopt such an attitude can only be referred to as professional obstructionists to the country’s progress,” charged Reid.
“I cannot help but to say that Barbados might have missed out on becoming the hub of innovation in the area of scientific research and development, especially in an important economic sector such as agriculture . . . because of this kind of attitude that only stagnate the chances for progress,” he added.
Based on the amount of money spent on education and training over the years, the agriculture official also strongly contended that the island should have been “on the cutting edge of scientific research and development”.
“This, however, is not the case. Many developing countries have moved ahead of us, especially in alternative methods of agricultural produce,” Reid said.
He said he was hoping that the new agri-preneurship programme, which will focus on organic farming, business development, research methods and technology in agriculture, would help to address the issues.
“Other than just focusing on sand and sea we need to use our human resource and our land to research, to develop and grow. It however, needs the kind of unwavering support of our political leaders and those in decision making positions in the private sector where most of the financial resource is, to make things happen.”
In giving his assessment of the situation, the Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) James Paul said he did not agree with Reid that the entire agriculture sector was at a crisis point.
However, Paul, who is also a Government backbencher, conceded that critical steps needed to be taken in order to keep it alive.
He explained that by increasing the yield of some crops, especially sugar cane and cotton, operational costs could be driven down.
In terms of decision-making, Paul lamented that there were too many inconsistencies.
“. . . sometimes at different levels you find different levels of cooperation in the industry and I think that has been the problem,” he said.
“What is more important is that we involve people in the industry. There are some people who do not have businesses in agriculture and they want to tell people in agriculture how to run their businesses. They cannot do that.
“What we need to see is a more bottom up approach to the management of the industry where those people who actually manage agriculture businesses they are listened to more. That would address the slowness of decision makers,” said Paul.