Farming needs meaningful intervention by Government and other players if the export of produce and signature agricultural products is to be profitable, a farming entrepreneur has suggested.
Farmer Bernice Chase, co-director of J&P Farms Ltd, made the call, in a Barbados TODAY interview on the difficulties the farming community has experienced over the last year and its expectations of growth in the near future.
Responding to Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Indar Weir, who called for an increase of Barbadian agriculture’s export capabilities in order to generate more jobs and reducing the food import bill, Chase said that farmers have all heard such talk for many years now and that the time for action is long overdue.
She told Barbados TODAY: “We speak these things and say that we want to push agriculture to the next level, but I believe in order for that to happen, you got to have some sort of discussion with farmers.
“Right now, a lot of them are not into all the long talk, because they have heard it all, and nothing has been done. We have all these good intentions, but there needs to be a proper system.”
In her experience over the years, Chase said, too often because of a lack of communication and planning, farmers were seen consistently during certain points of a year selling the exact same produce thus saturating the market.
The practice often led to lost sales for many farmers, and according to Chase, needs to be addressed if this industry is ever to compete better regionally, and internationally.
She said: “You have farmers who would be planting pumpkins now, because down the road persons would be selling pumpkins at a [specific] price, and then you would have a shortage of beans, shortage of beets… because there is no scheduling, I would say, like a set of farmers in the north doing a set of crops and central doing something.
“There should be a sort of system where you would have all the farmers covering all the crops.”
Noting Government’s recent comments on how agriculture has grown despite COVID-19 and other challenges, Chase said that she, too, is pleased with the growth but stressed that the industry had remained an afterthought of previous administrations for far too long. She said it is time for agriculture to get the respect it deserves.
She told Barbados TODAY: “This new administration came in, and all sorts of [challenges] started to happen, things beyond our control. You could not control COVID, the [volcanic] ash, the sewage issues [on the south coast], water problems… so I guess some things had to stay on the back burner, but you see agriculture, it should have never been on the back burner.
“Everybody has to eat, and a little country like us should not have to rely on the big countries out there to feed us. We came from an agriculture-based [society] years ago, where Barbados was able to feed itself. Right now we can’t do that… we have been hearing that for a long time but we are still not feeding ourselves.”
Chase acknowledged that COVID-19 would have halted some parts of farming on the island, as consumers naturally cut back on their spending because of loss of jobs and reduced pay for some.
But she is expecting a big rebound in the next 12 to 24 months, suggesting the recent ashfall from the La Soufriere volcano eruptions in St Vincent and the Grenadines would trigger a growth spurt for crops as it did following the eruption of 1902 and 1979.
After visiting mainland St Vincent several times over the years to see friends and family, Chase said that the ash would be a blessing for crops as the nutrients commonly found in such eruptions normally leads to a great harvest.
“I would hope though that the Government gives the ash away to the farmers,” she suggested. “I think probably the next rotation of crops that farmers put in, if they incorporate that ash into their soil, they will see good results.” (SB)