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by Dr.Chelston WD Brathwaite
Youth Unemployment and Agriculture
Youth unemployment is one of the greatest challenges in our quest for further growth and economic progress. According to a recent paper by Miss Keeley Holder entitled “A Human Resource Perspective on Agriculture in the 21st Century”:
“Youth are ardent about creating dynamic solutions to complex problems and the agricultural sector offers them the opportunity to do this. The application of scientific principles, modern techniques and technology in the agriculture of the 21st Century is exciting, fulfilling, socially acceptable and financially rewarding.”
The economic and social environment is also very conducive to youth participants for a number of reasons. Media attention and society’s interests in agriculture has increased significantly since the food and oil crises of 2008. The emphasis on healthy diets and increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables has also kept the spotlight on agriculture.
Additionally, agriculture is one of the few sectors that show positive economic activity during a recession. Combined, this environment provides the ideal conditions for the re-development and transition of the agricultural sector.
In the short-term strategic marketing of the potential of the agricultural sector to teenagers will be the most effective way to achieve impact and get these young school-leavers into the sector.
The involvement of youth in agriculture will be important in the future development of the sector as the current farmers are aging. A new thrust in food and agriculture will imply the need for new human resources in production, marketing and consumption, in food production expertise such as greenhouse technology, organic agriculture, food processing, biotechnology, agro-energy among others.
In addition, in marketing, the need for persons skilled in food labeling, promotion of local foods, transport, storage, grading, packing and processing will be necessary.
In the area of food consumption expertise in nutrition, food preparation, in restaurants and hotels and food quality control will be necessary.
Financing Agricultural Development
Since the 1980´s support for agricultural development and investment in agricultural technology and innovation has been on the decline in many of our countries. Official development assistance has also declined substantially. For example, in 1980, 30 per cent of annual World Bank lending went to agricultural development projects but this declined to 12 per cent in 2007.
Many development banks have eliminated their agricultural development departments. Our regional agricultural research institutions are underfunded and our Faculty of Agriculture which was founded based on the famous Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) lacks appropriate financial support.
The proposal to establish a Centre for Food Security and Entrepreneurship in Barbados is still pending. Now is the time to provide appropriate financial assistance to the sector and to strengthen government budgets for agricultural development.
For increased food security in any nation, we need financial institutions that recognise that the food and agricultural sector can be good business. I am told that in a certain developing country which I will not name, 62 per cent of all credit is for credit card debt and consumption, 33 per cent to support government debt obligations and 5 per cent to the agricultural sector. Development is difficult if the productive sectors of the economy are underfinanced.
For increased food security in any nation, we need farmers. Farmers who are entrepreneurs, farmers who recognize that their farm is a business enterprise and that they as business managers must acquire management skills, knowledge and technology to become competitive and to make business decisions about investments, the market and prices.
Susan George of the Institute of Policy Studies writes: “Food dependency conditions other kinds of dependency and so long as a nation has failed to solve its own food problem, there is little chance that it can practise any truly independent policies, whether domestic or foreign.”
1. National sovereignty and national independence cannot be totally achieved in the absence of food security. A firm commitment to action is necessary; we will become developed countries when the welfare of our farmers and the food security of our nation are priority issues on our development agenda.
Strategies to reposition the Food and Agriculture Sector in the Caribbean.
Given these realities, agricultural development strategies should be developed and implemented to reposition the agricultural sector and to boost food security. I recommend seven actions that should be undertaken:
I. There is need to reposition the agricultural sector and to recognise it as a strategic sector for development and we should promote Ministries of Food and Nutrition Security;
II. There is need to allocate more resources to agriculture, especially for investment in new technologies and market information systems;
III. There is need for more research and developments of agricultural technologies for production and processing of locally produced products;
IV. There is need to change the consumption patterns of the population from a focus on imported food to a focus on consumption of local foods by promoting nutrition education and implementing appropriate policy measures;
V. There is need to review our policies on importation of food items and provide incentives for the production of food locally and regionally;
VI. We also need to review our land use policies, strengthen agricultural extension services, make agriculture and food security a compulsory subject on the curriculum in our schools, strengthen the fisheries subsector and promote Climate Smart Agriculture by the incorporation of climate smart technologies in production; and
VII. We must promote private sector/public sector partnerships in food production and processing. The private sector is the major importer of food in the region. Any progress in addressing food security must therefore involve a partnership between the public and private sector.
The private sector importers of food should be invited to invest in the local agricultural sector. They should contract local farmers to produce selected food commodities. Governments should support the farmers with technological inputs and other services and private sector players can be given tax incentives to cushion the risks of investment in the sector. The private sector would use its marketing and distribution channels to distribute farmers produce. A system of agricultural insurance should be developed to support this initiative.
There is also need for a regional agricultural information system that would inform on the availability of food supplies in various countries of the region during the year. This would strengthen initiatives to promote regional trade and create the enabling environment to move food from countries and areas with excess to countries and areas with deficits.
A system for payments for regional food trade in local currencies should also be considered.
Dr Chelston WD Brathwaite is former Director General of the Interamerican Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and former Barbados Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.