Barbados’ ambassador to the United Nations, Elizabeth Liz Thompson, is calling for an immediate change in the way Barbadian agriculture is viewed, suggesting that it is doomed to remain in inertia, unless it is seen as a major industry and not as a last resort for those without job prospects.
Delivering the feature address for the Caribbean Agrotourism Policy Setting Workshop at Raddison Aquatica resort, Ambassador Thompson said: “Those who were forced into agriculture and for whom it became a potent symbol of their poverty, wanted another life for their children.
“Education removed their children from the fields with beasts of burden, created opportunities for clean hands, working in the shade, and the more genteel forms of living which were closed to our forefathers.
“Given this torturous history, who in their right minds would have chosen agriculture as the career of preference for their children?
“Vestiges of this attitude continue to inform Caribbean society – our interest in and view of agriculture and its acceptability as a career for young people in relatively well educated societies, our choice of sectors in which to invest, as a lever for social and economic mobility, the respect and value afforded farmers and for the value and linkages of agriculture to tourism and other important economic sectors.”
She contended that Barbadians must accept agriculture as pivotal to the region’s medium and long-term planning and development. She urged “reconciling ourselves to our past and to recognise the potential and role of agriculture in modern Caribbean society and economy”.
The UN envoy recommended that schools expand their agricultural programmes to enable young people to start viewing farming as a viable employment opportunity and not as an afterthought.
She said: “The first policy intervention or approach which I would want to recommend is the expanded teaching of agriculture in schools, at the primary level and in our elite secondary schools.
“This will enhance interest in and understanding of, not merely crops but the gamut of agricultural practice and opportunities.
“As it is, too many people fall into agriculture as a last resort rather than as a deliberate choice.
“This exposure within the school system will not only boost interest and should help to foster a critical mass of people engaged in various aspects of agriculture.
“A precursor to strengthening the regional agrifood sector is strengthening the agricultural sector.”
Thompson, a former cabinet Minister in the 1994-2008 Owen Arthur administration, further argued that Barbados has to move from primary crop production to be competitive.
She continued: “Traditionally, in the Caribbean, we have produced and perpetuated the production of primary agricultural and fisheries products – sugar and cocoa, but not chocolates; fresh caught fish, but not fish fingers, burgers or fish patties; coconuts green and dry, but not coconut flour, a little coconut milk, but not bottled or boxed coconut water.
“We pour a little coconut oil in the centre of our heads for various ailments – well, our grandparents did – or applied it to our skin, but we do not export the exotic skin creams and soaps containing coconut oil that attract high prices.
“Our zaboca/avocados or pears when we cannot eat enough, drop and rot, but are not pressed into oils for food or skin.
“When we have eaten too many mangoes the flies take the rest, but we do not export dried fruit.”