This year’s cotton crop may be in danger with up to 40 per cent of the yield likely to go to waste due to a shortage of cotton pickers.
And farmers say they face an even greater challenge posed by their inability to attract young harvesters to replace the increasingly aging group of labourers.
Chief Executive Officer of Exclusive Cottons of the Caribbean Adlai Stevenson told Barbados TODAY that as much as 20 to 40 per cent of this year’s crop might not be harvested because of the labour shortage.
Stevenson’s company, which produces West Indian Sea Island Cotton, has about 100 acres to be harvested.
He said the scarcity of pickers is a perennial problem, which manifests itself in the reluctance of other farmers to go into cotton production.
“They see the challenges that other farmers have because they can get the cotton planted, they can take care of their plants, they can monitor the pests and deal with them as they appear. But if you can’t get the cotton harvested then that’s not the way you’re going to get your returns,” he stated.
Even at this last minute, with the harvest already underway, Stevenson remained hopeful that jobseekers, particularly the youth, would give the sector another look.
“Everyone has to think long and hard as to how we can get the message across that working in the sun is not something that needs to be shied away from. Rather than liming on the block or sitting at home hoping that someone else finds a way to generate an income, those young persons who are unemployed or underemployed should consider picking cotton.”
The lack of interest displayed by young people remains a concern, even for the current crop of pickers, made up of an older demographic.
Mabel Bascombe, who works at the Halton Plantation in St Philip, told Barbados TODAY there were jobs available but the youth were not interested.
“The young people want to work in easy jobs that they can go in, sign their name and whenever they feel like, [leave], and when they ain’t feel like, don’t go,” she said.
Bascombe said business had been on the decline in the last few years, but she takes pride in what she does. She said when business was good she earned over $300 over a three-day period.
She earns a lot less today, but she has no plans to give up, the elderly cotton picker insisted.
“I’m working Wednesdays and Saturdays and I can’t even get 100 dollars. Still, I ain’t letting it stop me from picking any because this little extra money will come in handy,” she said, noting that she planned to continue “as long as de Lord give me strength”.
Lolita Weekes, who works alongside Bascombe, admits it is hard work but she is encouraging younger people to get involved, adding, it is also honest work.
“It all depends on who want to work and who don’t want,” Weekes said of the concerns over the lack of jobs.
“As long as you’re registered anybody can pick cotton.”