Barbados must step up to the plate and reduce its dependency on food imports, says Agriculture Minister Dr David Estwick.
Blaming the current shortage of some fruits and vegetables in local supermarkets on the recent passage of Hurricane Matthew, Dr Estwick stressed the island would be better off if it produced and consumed more local foods.
“If we do not produce our own food, we will be forced to rely on costly imports and by extension put our own food security and labour force at risk. The recent shortages of imported fruits and vegetables in the local supermarkets due to the passage of Hurricane Matthew in Florida, is evidence of Barbados’ vulnerability.
“The reality is that events that impact negatively on food production overseas will undoubtedly affect us if we allow this status quo to continue,” Dr Estwick warned as he addressed the graduation ceremony of the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator programme at the Savannah Hotel last night.
He urged Barbadians to abandon the view that the importation of food was vital and that foreign produce was better than those grown locally.
“I do not believe or I do not subscribe to the view that because we signed on to the WTO [World Trade Organization] in 1994, that we should necessarily accept the position that because something can be gotten cheaper someplace else that we should bring it in to Barbados and not grow those products locally and not provide domestic employment for ourselves. I am not accepting that logic at all.
“I am also not going to accept the reasoning that as long as you have foreign exchange you are going to import all your food. That is rubbish.”
The outspoken minister said the tourism sector and the Ministry of Social Care were critical to turning around the island’s high food import bills and he instructed his permanent secretary Esworth Reid to enlist the support of the two players to turn things around.
“I am saying without fear, set up meetings with the Barbados Hotel Association and sit down and get them to understand that they can contribute to the savings of foreign exchange and to the development of a sustainable agricultural platform in Barbados”.
With respect to the Ministry of Social Care, Dr Estwick added, “the modern agricultural platform also necessitates that our welfare system of consumption be linked to domestic production, we can no longer be having large numbers of persons in this country who are being supported by the state on a monthly basis but yet they buy the foods from America with your [taxpayers money]”.
He also used the occasion to announce that his ministry was in the process of establishing a packing and processing plant as he expressed concern about wastage.
“For too long we’ve been talking about bringing farmers and the market together, now if you produce food and you don’t eat all yourself, there are only two things you can do with it. You only sell some or you process some . . . too much food is wasted on the farms, and post-harvest management has to now be dealt with in an organized way. I wish it wasn’t the state doing it but it seems as though in small countries that the state has to do everything and then the private sector say they could do it better.”
World Food Day is being celebrated across the globe today under the theme Climate is Changing, Food and Agriculture must too.