Barbados is such a beautiful island.
With everything that has been going on, it is easy to forget how pristine, pure and resilient our island truly is. The hikes put on by the Barbados National Trust and others assist in keeping the raw and natural beauty front of mind for locals.
I have seen the island from a perspective that many of us do not take the time to experience.
These hikes have made me feel as though calls for greater efforts to rekindle agriculture and preserve the national parks and wild lands in Barbados have not gained enough attention or advocacy.
Around the late 1990s and into the turn of the century when we were trying to create a rekindled economic path, we started a national discussion about land in Barbados, foreign direct investment and what a balance between the two should look like.
There were deep discussions on several related issues – watercourses and development in and around them; the impact of development on land tax values and how this could potentially disenfranchise Barbadians; and whether foreign investors should be able to buy or lease land. There were several calls for a land use policy, but far from having a clear indication of how we move forward with the lands in Barbados, the displacement of sugar cane and the cessation of planting and preparation of large tracks of land made the whole situation worse. Up to now, there has been no clear indication of what will happen with the CLICO plantation lands. However, with elections in the air and our economy in need of strategies and measures to rekindle it, I think it is a good time to remind the nation that we still have unresolved issues to discuss as far as our land use goes.
I am not in favour of foreigners owning land in Barbados. Land is a finite resource and I think it is time for us to consider leasing as part of our foreign direct investment mechanism. I also believe that there should be a more stringent and deterrent oriented policy for taking land out of agricultural production and turning it into housing or other types of use.
One of the features of most of the economies that have been able to recover fully from the 2008 world crash was that they had a component of agriculture as a major economic plank. Guyana has been recording significant stabilization in its fortunes over the last five years or so. A major component of the rebound has been agriculture. The argument is usually that Barbados is too small to really compete seriously with major food producing countries. While this may be true, I believe that we must focus more on cutting the food import bill by producing more of what we consume.
It will call for some serious work to be done to sensitize our children to the local tastes, but this work has additional health benefits which we also cannot ignore. So agriculture is a key to economic stabilization; it is a means of addressing non-communicable diseases and the long-term cost of health care and, above all else, it addresses the environmental balance that needs to be maintained in this country.
The hiking trails are being affected by erosion. They also reveal the serious problems that we have with illegal dumping. However, as I started by saying, they also underline the great beauty of the island that we call home. I think that we have to use hiking and nature to a greater degree in remediation of deviance and to get younger generations to feel connected to and invested in our country.
Land has to be seen not only for its value in dollars, but also for its irreplaceable ability to soothe us, offer peace and tranquility. That is not only a need that people with money have or should enjoy. I believe it to be the role of the state to ensure that all of us get that opportunity. We need to fix the laws and loopholes that make what is going on at the Crane impossible to happen and we need to add other tracks of land to the same public and national status that our beaches have.
We must also be willing to defend these fields and hills in keeping with our civic and national duty. We have a truly beautiful island and we must remain vested in it.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: [email protected])