Hundreds of young people who lost their jobs to Government restructuring are flocking to take part in a new farming programme, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir has revealed.
Launched yesterday, the Farmer’s Empowerment and Enfranchisement Drive (FEED) has already attracted 300 workers, while in the last two weeks more than 400 others have submitted applications.
Under the programme, plots of land are to be allocated to would-be farmers at a fee of $25 per month.
Weir said more than half of those who had already signed up were aged 45 or younger.
He declared: “The FEED programme will embrace existing farmers, but perhaps more importantly, it seeks to attract new farmers, particularly the younger generation.
“Having reviewed the demographics of the applicants, I am pleased to report that some fifty-six per cent of those farmers or potential farmers are under the age of 45 years. This is very heartening for we are relying on that generation to further agricultural development and by extension the economic growth of Barbados.”
The Minister urged those private landowners who were interested in building the FEED programme’s land bank to contact the Barbados Agricultural Development and Management Corporation (BADMC).
“Our intention is not merely to increase agricultural production so as to make our countryside look green and flourishing, but also to develop a sustainable agricultural production and marketing system to boost economic and social development.
“In an effort to increase the land bank for farmers enrolled in the FEED programme, I am appealing to private landowners interested in leasing land to farmers under the programme to approach the BADMC which is willing to facilitate arrangements for contracts to be drawn up directly between landowner and farmer. In that way, farmers and landowners alike would benefit,” Weir said.
Chairman of the BADMC Anthony Wood said the project would lead to an increase in food production on the island.
While he supported the move to offer retrenched workers first dibs on the allotments, he said it was important for farmers to have ready access to financing and water.
Wood, himself a former agriculture minister, said: “It is good that this programme has a dedicated line of financing but now that I have the powers that be here, I just need to send a soft word that a timely release of financing for the programme is one of the key factors that could prevent the holdup of the programme.
“In another regard, a factor that could cause some problems for the farmers in the programme is lack of access to water. There is no secret that a programme like this would need a building out of our irrigation infrastructure so that farmers would have access to a ready availability of water.”
The chairman also revealed that a marketing department is to be formed at the BADMC on Wednesday to assist in the marketing and distribution of the produce.
The BADMC’s Manager of Agricultural Services Dr Jamekal Andwele told Barbados TODAY the FEED programme intends to engage 1,000 young farmers.
While males accounted for eight of ten applications, the farming agency was hoping to increase the interest among females, he said.
Several major retailers and hotels including Pricesmart, Divi Southwinds, the Crane Resort and Infinity on the Beach had already agreed to buy some of the programme’s produce.
On his first day on the job, new permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Terry Bascombe stressed on the need to reduce the annual food import bill, which came in last year at a staggering $685 million.