When Governor of the Central Bank Cleviston Haynes declared that the loss of annual earnings from the absence of the Crop Over festival two years in a row would impact the pace of our country’s economic recovery, it came as no surprise to us.
Beginning in June, Crop Over runs until the first Monday in August, and is estimated to contribute between $80 million and $100 million to the economy each year. That means a loss of about $200 million with the cancellation of the festival in 2020 and again this year.
In his assessment, the Central Bank Governor lamented that the country was not going to get the substantial amount of foreign exchange it usually would during the June to August festival.
Haynes said: “Not having it does impact the pace at which the economy will be able to recover on the one hand, but it also impacts those who are involved in that activity because we are talking now of persons who are into cultural activities, events management, and this represented one of the major periods during the year when those persons could generate income.”
There are a number of activities connected to the annual festival. As the Governor said, in addition to facilitating the earning of foreign exchange, the Crop Over festival was responsible for scores of employment opportunities.
We must all know by now that the Crop Over gains cause a ripple economic effect and, likewise, so do the losses.
He added that a severe blow has been dealt to a range of related commercial activities, including the making and purchasing of costumes, the hosting of events and the renting and purchasing of various equipment, products and services.
But the Crop Over losses are much greater than the $200 million occasioned by the two cancellations.
Crop Over is the premier festival that fosters our country’s culture and identity. It is the period when our island’s cultural practitioners get to display their diversity and uniqueness.
Scores of craftspeople and artisans look forward to the annual festival to showcase what is authentic to us. Our talented artists and craft people are busy around this period recording sales to tourists who are desperate to take back a piece of our heritage with them.
And while Bridgetown Market may not attract the same number of locals it once did, the tourists always provide a sure sale for many.
Then there is the developmental aspect of the festival with the staging of the Junior Monarch competition and Junior Kadooment. Both events are an investment in future generations. The pan events do the same when the likes of Mosaic have on stage their senior and junior groups during Pan Pon De Sand. These events provide a way for the younger ones to become familiar with the season of Crop Over, how it came about and the reason for it.
Then there are volunteers who sometimes are made up of Barbados Community College students of theatre arts, music and fine arts, who get hands-on experience.
We also have a slew of service providers who offer stage management, event planning, tent and equipment rentals, the craft and food vendors, taximen, clothing stores, salons, and the list goes on.
We often think Crop Over and think only of the calypsonians and Grand Kadooment. We define the annual festival by the music and jump-up, but what the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) stages annually is so much more than that.
We agree with the Governor when he said that while it was critical for the summer celebrations to return to help boost economic growth and so that affected individuals could earn, it was a matter of first getting the pandemic under full control.
So, while we are unlikely to get back to the glory days of physical Crop Over with the unpredictable COVID-19, we must find some way to keep our culture alive and the festival alive.
In April, for that reason and more, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for Culture John King said that Bajans could expect “a very different Crop Over festival” than the one to which they’ve grown accustomed.
King said at the time: “I will be able to give a full statement on what it’s going to look like, how it is going to be done and all of that. But we are really looking at extending the Season of Emancipation. There will be events and different things but not in the form that people are accustomed to.”
This is key.
Going forward, the powers that be will have to look at a “different type” of Crop Over, but looking at no Crop Over cannot be an option for 2022. Too much is at stake nationally.
We are a creative people; we have always been. We must look to put a Crop Over plan in place that relies heavily on virtual events, where possible, if we are not in a better place battling COVID next year.
We can’t let year three come and future generations not be exposed to our culture and the one festival that evokes national pride in us all. Our losses are economic and cultural. We have to find a way to make a Crop Over 2022 happen in some form or fashion.