This is the second in a two-part series looking at vending in Barbados. Today, we zero in on the farming and vending of produce, and take a look at some of the concerns in the industry.
It is not a trade that individuals readily gravitate towards or say they want to do after their studies. However, it is arguably one of the most important commercial activities on the planet.
Vending, whether formal or informal, continues to play a critical role in any society, providing an opportunity for individuals to earn a living, care for their families and provide people with easy access to a range of items.
Co-Founder of the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN) Allister Alexander has pledged that his organization would continue to do what it could to further develop the industry while bringing a greater level of sophistication.
Over the years, BARVEN has been an advocate for its over 600 members, calling for better treatment, improved facilities and greater flexibility.
“We always wanted vending to be given its due respect,” he said. Describing vending as “the mother of all black economic enfranchisement in Barbados”, Alexander said, “We want to carry vending to its fullest possible development. We are talking about diversifying vending. We want to keep the traditional street vending because we believe in it. Street vending is not just the convenient store of vending, but an iconic feature of vending. It epitomises the struggle of our people. But we want to carry vending also to a more sophisticated height, so to speak,” said the vendor of 25 years.
However, in order for vending to take on new heights, several concerns in the farming community must be addressed.
Co-founder of BARVEN Richard Scantlebury told Barbados TODAY he was still concerned about the little importance being placed on the agriculture industry, saying it was clear that for years “we have been putting too much of our eggs in one basket – tourism”.
Scantlebury said he believed if the agriculture sector was given more attention over the years Barbados would not need to import as much as it currently did, and the COVID-19 pandemic would not have had the impact it did when the tourism industry came to a halt.
“The only way it will turn around is if there is this massive drive from the top down. First of all, they have to recognise the importance of it and create this drive where they get Barbadians planting again,” said Scantlebury.
For this to take place, the farmer said several impediments would have to be removed and challenges addressed, including the most concerning – praedial larceny. This is one of the challenges Scantlebury said was preventing more people from planting crops or raring animals.
Other concerns in the industry include less than ideal seed quality, small farmers being unable to access funding to grow and modernise their operation due to what is considered onerous requirements, the costs associated with obtaining water during the dry season, and the destruction of crops by monkeys.
Scantlebury said while authorities were trying to help the industry, he believed a lot more could be done, pointing out that over the years successive governments have given a lot of lip service and not fully implemented policies. He believes if ministry officials were to get more involved in the agriculture and vending communities, they would better understand the needs and design more targeted projects. He said too often technocrats sit in an office and make decisions, not fully creating the kind of environment that was exactly needed.
“There is no reason agriculture should not be profitable in Barbados,” he said, adding that the majority of people who were farming were doing so primarily because of a love for it.
“You have to make the whole farming environment conducive,” said the tradesman. “In order for people to desire to be farmers, they have to see genuine successes with the farmers,” he added.
Declaring that “vending is here to stay. It is not going anywhere,” Scantlebury said his hope was that the Government would come up with a programme that would see the local farming community providing consistently high-quality produce to some facilities including the hospitals, children’s homes and schools.
“If locally produced foods go into all those areas, we must build a stronger nation,” he said.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of food vendors from other Caribbean countries, especially Jamaica, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Grenada. Officials in the industry welcome the diversity, saying that the vending and farming communities in Bridgetown have been able to learn from others over the years.
However, Scantlebury said one area he believed there could be improvement was that of food storage. “We have to find ways of storing these foods. We have to start thinking in that direction. Too much food is wasted in Barbados,’ he said.
Lorraine Knight, 57, is a vendor in her Melrose, St Thomas community. While vending was somewhat of a tradition in her family when she was younger, she decided initially that was not the way to go. “I came up in a generation of vendors selling vegetables, but I found that operating a shop was easier,” she told Barbados TODAY.
However, after 20 years of operating that “corner shop”, Knight decided to take up vending and leave the running of the shop to her husband and one other worker.
She said: “I came back to vending because working in the shop was affecting the body, I find it more relaxing here. So it is easier for me now.”
Giving her assessment of the vending community in Barbados, Knight said she believed it was still dominated by older folk, but quickly pointed out that a lot more younger people were showing an interest for whatever reason. This, she said, was promising.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really enjoy it that much because I used to see it as a street thing and it was a low rating job, but now I find everybody getting in the trade because it is bringing in money to help the family. It seems enjoyable now more than when I was younger,” she said.
She also wants to see more young people getting involved in farming. “I find that people are frighten for the stealing of the produce so I find that the Government should pay more attention to what they do and how they go about it so that more people can get involved and have their produce secured,” urged Knight, who started her vending in June of this year.
Knight said she found that community vending was a welcomed activity since many residents tend to “like coming out in the neighbourhood to get their produce and just go back in rather than going to the supermarket just for a few items and to wait in a long line”.
Government is in the process of developing policies to help develop the vending community. Work has also started to improve the agriculture industry. One of the initiatives introduced last year is the Farmers Empowerment and Enfranchisement Drive (FEED) programme to empower farmers, reduce poverty and reduce the island’s over $500 million food import bill.