by Marlon Madden
A senior economist is recommending that Barbados focus on producing more “high quality” fresh foods instead of seeking to attain food security.
Dr DeLisle Worrell argued that locally produced food would not be cheap for consumers, adding that mass production could even mean people having to “pick or dig” their own food supply.
In his February newsletter titled Eating What You Grow Won’t Increase Food Security, Worrell recalled how a resurgence of locusts in Somalia devastated crops in that East African nation, which he said was a stark reminder that “depending on food you produce yourself is a very insecure way to live”.
“If Barbadians depended mainly on fruits and vegetables grown locally, we would suffer from acute shortages whenever there was drought, flooding or extreme weather, or whenever crops were affected by infestations, predators or other adversity. Growing your own food does not increase food security, it decreases food security,” the former Govenor of the Central Bank said .
“In order to turn the corner on what is still a failing agricultural sector, farmers need to focus on the production of high quality fresh foods, produced organically and distributed to consumers safely, quickly and conveniently. This will not be cheap food for mass consumption. If the product is cheap to buy the return to the farmer will be low, or you will not find the product fresh in the supermarket, and you will have to go pick or dig your own supply,” he said.
The former central bank governor said a focus on organically produced fresh food production “offers ample scope for vigorous expansion in farm output in Barbados and the Caribbean”, adding that there was already a demand for healthy, nutritious food.
“The Caribbean now boasts creative chefs who use local products as the basis for exciting culinary experiences for residents and visitors alike. With the use of suitable incentives, governments can provide the stimulus for the growth of a sustainable agriculture that does not depend on bans, prohibitions or tariffs on imported foods, and which provides a comfortable middle-class lifestyle for farmers,” he said.
Worrell also suggested that the practice of how crops are being protected from harmful insects and diseases should be revisited.
“It does matter how the food is grown. We need to ask whether current agricultural practices in Barbados do in fact produce high quality food that is healthy and nutritious to eat. My wife Monica and I live in the country, and I have to confess that the frequent scent of herbicides and pesticides, wafting across from cultivated fields nearby, is more than a little disconcerting,” he said.
The Mia Mottley administration has been focused on boosting food security over the past two years, implementing several farming programmes to encourage ramped up food production, while encouraging farmers to engage in certain practices including water-harvesting.
Barbados is said to import about 80 per cent of the food it consumes.
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir has in the past said his ministry was developing climate change mitigation strategies to help protect the industry from climate change threats as the island moved towards food security.
He has also indicated a push by his ministry for farmers to use more environmentally controlled systems to produce high crops despite adverse weather or climatic conditions “thus ensuring the island’s food security”.
“In this regard, he said the Ministry of Agriculture was seeking to promote container farming, which he said would provide for year-round production of certain vegetables, herbs and shallow rooted crops,” Weir said.
However, in his newsletter, Worrell argued while there were good reasons to promote competitive local production of quality fresh produce, “they have nothing to do with food security”.
“Instead, local farmers should be encouraged to provide top quality food in support of healthy lifestyles for Barbadians. Nutritionists attest to the fact that fresh produce, locally grown, is the key to a healthy diet,” said Worrell.
The local agriculture sector was the best performing last year, according to the latest Central Bank report, which showed that agriculture output was 1.9 per cent higher than in 2019, with the main source of growth being as a result of higher food crop production.
The report showed that while the sugar industry contributed about $4.2 million to the island’s gross domestic product (GDP) last year, compared to $4 million a year prior, the non-sugar agriculture contribution increased by $1.9 million, to reach $117 million of GDP last year.