Farmers are predicting that the price of locally-produced food will rise sharply as production costs go up.
Small farmers in particular, say they have found themselves at a crossroad. They must either evolve or exit the vital industry after the most recent announcement of an increase in commercial water rates.
Farmers have been crying out ever since the Garbage and Sewage Contribution levy, announced during Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s mini Budget last June started cutting deeply into their profits.
During last week’s Budget, the Prime Minister announced that from May 1, commercial entities would have to pay $4.66 per cubic meter for up to 40 cubic meters of water and $7.78 per cubic meter for usage in excess of 40 cubic meters.
Against the odds, many farmers have committed themselves to the supply of locally-produced food.
However, the most recent announcement has left some agriculture workers, particularly livestock farmers who rely on a heavy supply of water, concerned that they may not be able to compete with similar products imported from developed countries.
“If Government doesn’t protect domestic products and if you don’t have food, we have lost a part of our anatomy as a nation. If we develop a pattern here in Barbados where the importer is king and not the farmer who lives in the country, we have a problem for future generations,” argued young farmer, Mikkel Rogers who specialises in pig farming and root crops.
“When you look at the cost of water and the water tax implemented in the mini Budget in 2018, that was difficult for us . . . now if you are a commercially rated customer and you grow a crop like lettuce, which requires a daily supply of water and the cost of that lettuce used to be $2.00, now you have to go to the consumer with a higher price.
“So in the supermarket the cost of lettuce may have to increase by a dollar to accommodate the rise in costs, while the price of romaine lettuce from overseas remains the same,” he said, adding that countries like America, Canada and England had the resources to subsidise their agricultural inputs and drive up production, while reducing the cost of the products on supermarket shelves.
Rogers added that farmers would now have to find more tactful ways of getting the same production, while using less water. He also suggested developing desalination plants or rainwater harvesting and using emerging techniques like reverse osmosis.
“We farmers have to be innovative and I am not going to just blame the Government. The recent measures are going to hurt us as farmers, but we have to find new ways to beat the system,” he said.
CEO of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul earlier this week predicted that some farmers who were now operating at “break even” could “go under” due to the increased cost of the important resource.
“The water bill has gone sky high and I definitely have to use a lot of water,” said 47-year-old Junior Foster, a pig farmer with over 30 years of experience.
He said since the introduction of the GSL, his bill has increased by almost $200 per month and would increase even further when the new measure is implemented.
Foster however told Barbados TODAY that he would never consider giving up on farming.
“This is my livelihood so I’m not thinking about closing right now. Some of these farmers around here are part time. Agricultural work is always difficult regardless of which Government is in power, but certain measures have been put in place and they will either make us or break us.
“But I just can’t pack up and shut down just like that. If you are a 24-hour farmer, the farthest thing from your mind is closing down, whether you’re into livestock, food crops or whatever,” he said.
Rico Dyall, a 23-year-old, who started farming at the tender age of 15, specialises in the cultivation of kale, but also grows beans and peppers. Dyall said he would continue to press on despite the challenges, but admitted his business was under pressure from all angles.
“Sometimes supermarkets don’t want to pay the price charged by the farmers and try to make us bring down our prices and I can’t do that if I have water bills and all kinds of bills to pay. I can only give them according to what I pay to produce the crops,” he said.
“The prices are definitely going to go up. I am hoping that the people who usually like to support local farmers, will continue to do so.” [email protected]