Concerned about the island’s high food import bill and a lack of variety in fresh fruits and vegetables all year round, one businessman is pumping millions of dollars into the local agriculture sector to effect change.
Canadian Charles Gagnon, who has called Barbados home for the past decade, told Barbados TODAY he was simply eager to see the island growing more of the fruits and vegetables it consumes, adding that there was too much focus on sugarcane production over the years with very little on food production.
“A lot of the tropical fruits and vegetables should grow well here so we should really look at replacing these imports. You kind of don’t know where they come from or how they are grown,” he said, pointing out that his farm would be using “as little” chemicals as possible.
“If there is any disruption in maritime transportation or airfreight then if you don’t have at least some food autonomy then people could literally starve here. I don’t think we can go fully autonomous but to have some level of food security is important,” he explained.
Last year, Gagnon completed the purchase of the Haymans and Warleigh plantations with over 400 acres of property stretching from Bakers to parts of Black Bess, Haymans, Farm Road and The Whim, all in the parish of St Peter.
Gagnon was guarded about the total investment to be pumped into the operation to get it fully operational. However, Barbados TODAY understands that, including the purchase of the expansive property, the total investment would surpass the $10 million mark.
“We purchase the land and then we have invested in machinery for the farm. I don’t have exact figures but we have already invested a few million dollars in getting the farm going, purchasing equipment, and fixing the buildings,” said Gagnon.
Over the past several months, workers have been transforming the land, which was previously used for the growing of sugarcane under the management of the Barbados Agriculture Management Company (BAMC), but was overgrown with shrubs and at various points became an illegal dumping ground.
Gagnon told Barbados TODAY the plan was to populate the area with a variety of fruits and vegetables, explaining that while there would be some production of the more commonly grown food crops, he would be introducing others that were being imported once they were able to grow here, as well as some spices.
He said he believed if people were exposed to a wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable cost, a lot of the non-communicable diseases now facing the population would be a thing of the past.
“If people were to eat healthier then the health problems here would be reduced significantly,” he said.
Acknowledging that farming was “a difficult business”, the trained lawyer and financial expert said he was not going into the new business venture with huge expectations of profitability.
“Margins are not very high, but if at least we can sell enough to pay for the investment and the equipment and the labour costs but we are not looking to make millions out of farming. It is very challenging here,” he said.
The new crop production enterprise, known as Haymans Farm, currently employs 15 people, and that number could double when the farm is at full capacity.
Asked why this kind of investment at this time, the founder of the 14-year-old Amphora Financial Group told Barbados TODAY he simply believed now was the time.
“I find at the moment things are not going very well in Barbados. I hope it will turn around. The property market has been depressed for years and farming is not doing that well either. I just believe that this place, if properly managed, could do better over time.
“It has big challenges, but I think it has a lot of potential. I just need to focus and get certain things done right. I hope it will turn out to be a good investment in the long run,” he explained.
Stating that he was confident in the Mia Mottley administration’s push towards achieving food security, Gagnon said “If I can contribute by making a better offering of fruits and vegetables, so be it. It is going to be good for my own family because we live here, and it is going to be good for everybody who gets our produce.”
Five acres of the farm, which uses its own water source, have been earmarked for the immediate production of vegetables within a shade house for local consumption.
The bulk of the farm, however, will be for the production of hay, which will be sold both locally and regionally.
“We may have some solar generation also on some parts of the property that we are looking at. That is really it. Eventually, once we have bigger volumes of fruits and vegetables we will offer them to the public so that people can come here and buy directly from the farm,” said the investor.
Gagnon, who is a large shareholder in a cannabis production company in Canada, admitted that he did examine the possibility of putting some of the land into cannabis production, but said he was still uneasy about doing so because of the high fees associated with licensing.
However, he said he was willing to try at a one-acre production, but insisted it was not a part of the short-term plans.