Eight years ago the average age of the Barbadian farmer was 50, but now it has dropped to 38 as ageing agricultural workers exit the industry.
At the same time, the sector’s total contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had significantly declined.
The situation is of serious concern to officials, including Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick, who today warned that the future of industry will be in doubt unless more young people get involved.
Dr Estwick also highlighted the importance of investing in the youth, saying it was critical “to our national economic development and food and nutrition security”.
He was addressing the awards ceremony of the Youth Agri-Preneurship Incubator Programme and launch of the second cohort.
The programme, which ran for four months, sought to provide 20 young people with both practical and theoretical knowledge of the industry in the face of what Project Manager Kareem Payne said “gradual but perpetual decline” in agriculture, which he said had left the island “in a very precarious position”.
“Perhaps the most damning and critical change has been the intangible change in the perception of agriculture by the citizens of Barbados, which unfortunately has been passed on to the current generation and [is] seemingly being passed on to the next,” Payne said.
Also addressing the gathering at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Esworth Reid, criticised parents for telling their children not to get involved in the sector on account of “foolish pride”, which he said was preventing them from seeing the opportunities in agriculture for educated young Barbadians “to develop and apply the productive, scientific, innovative and creative skills they would have acquired from the free education they were exposed to”.
“I am saying this in reflection of our 50th year of Independence. There are still some parents who would insist that their educated children should never work in agriculture, when in fact, other than the human effort itself, the land and the sea are our only productive resources,” a passionate Reid said.
“What makes it even worse is when parents instill in children that agriculture is only for the dull and ignorant. I will take the opportunity at this time to caution parents who do this, it is neither mature or progressive thinking for a supposedly educated society that has had access to free education for more than fifty years,” he added. (MM)