Barbados’ food import bill is increasing, while its production of vital commodities is decreasing, a Government official has warned.
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo therefore sees a desperate need for more young Barbadians to get into farming as a means of rescuing the agricultural sector and cutting down the country’s $500 million food import bill.
Delivering the feature address at the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture’s recent farm graduation programme, Byer-Suckoo also pointed out that the Caribbean Community’s food import billwas expected to double from US$4 billion to US$8 billion by 2020, citing to Food and Agricultural Organization’s projections.
However, she was particularly concerned about the level of domestic food imports, which she described as simply unsustainable given the country’s high fiscal deficit and its dwindling foreign exchange reserves, which fell below the required cover to less than $700 million last December.
“We as people can no longer remain heavily dependent on food imports. We have been hearing for the last several weeks how much money we spend on importing food because here in Barbados we import just about everything . . . . If we are to look at reducing our deficit and our use of foreign exchange and because of the money we spend that is a good place to start,” Byer-Suckoo said, while arguing that a reduction in food imports would redound to more employment opportunities.
However, she expressed concern that farmers were now an aging demographic and “that it was quite possible in the foreseeable future that the agricultural sector could stagnate”.
“In Barbados our national production per capita has declined, most notably in the fruits and vegetables category,” the minister said.
Using statistics from the Barbados Economic and Social Report for 2015, she also reported that “local vegetable production declined by 186 thousand kilogrammes, which is 4.2 per cent, while vegetable imports increased by 16.2 per cent or 406 thousand kilogrammes”.
Byer-Suckoo said the situation was particularly disturbing since the imported crops could easily be grown in Barbados.
“The main commodities which registered increases were tomatoes which increased by 50 per cent, lettuce by 22 per cent, melons by 20 per cent, beets and carrots by 19 per cent, sweet peppers by 17.5 per cent.
“Those are crops that can be grown right here and people can make a decent living off them. Think of the foreign exchange that we can save, the monies that our farmers would earn if instead of importing, they were allowed to supply to our markets and that is not even considering export possibilities,” she stressed.