The now discarded tourism slogan, pitched Barbados as Just Beyond Your Imagination.
It is a place like no other, we have messaged to citizens from around the world.
The record number of tourist arrivals in our pre-pandemic era was testimony to the fact that hundreds of thousands of travellers each year, felt the slogan to be true and spent millions of dollars to briefly enjoy a piece of paradise.
We have introduced this as a point of comparison to the reality of too many Barbadians who are finding it extremely difficult to endure the crushing cost of living.
Some lament that it is really the high level of personal debt that too many of us are saddled with that contributes to the feeling of being overwhelmed when food and gas prices increase.
An argument can be made that much of the present inflation is due to ongoing pandemic supply disruptions as producers try to meet increased consumer demand after the sudden and catastrophic fall off during the height of global COVID-19 outbreaks.
Added to the post-COVID woes has been the attack on Ukraine by Russia. The unprovoked and unnecessary war has plunged countries like ours in a tailspin just as the recovery process started late last year following two years of chaos.
But the skeptics among us will argue that the life of the average Barbadian has always been hard. It is the strength of the extended family unit and some state support that have kept many from the point of destitution.
As much as we may not want to acknowledge or even accept it, approximately two in 10 Barbadians live in poverty, according to the last published statistics.
We are not privy to the updated numbers, but former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr DeLisle Worrell said in a 2009 news report that Barbados Statistical Services data showed the average citizen was paid between $200 and $500 weekly.
The economist said then that 33, 000 people worked for between $200 and $499 weekly, another 19,100 worked for between $500 and $999 per week, 3, 700 earned between $1 000 and $1 300 weekly, while 4,100 Barbadians took home more than $1,300 per week.
We suspect that even the increase in minimum wage last year has been wiped out by the big jumps in almost every food item and consumer goods. On the other hand, the labour market has been upended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And so, how we choose to address the rising cost of living will be paramount. At the national level, government is likely to continue its targeted assistance to the most vulnerable in our country.
It is against this backdrop that we find the suggestion from chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) Mr James Paul, that government put its medicinal marijuana plans on hold.
Mr Paul’s contention is there is an urgency to produce much more food to feed Barbadians, and not weed.
The BAS head is quoted as saying: “Marijuana does not form a part of the food security strategy, and to that extent I want to say that were I in a position of authority, I would immediately say that we need to put all lands that are available into food production.
“Marijuana production has nothing to do with food. I am sorry, but I feel that this preoccupation with marijuana production at this time is not going to do us much good.
“At this critical time, we should be spending our resources in trying to ensure that our citizens are provided with adequate food. To take valuable resources and devote it to marijuana, which has dubious benefits, by the way, makes no sense at this time.”
The agricultural executive makes a strong argument. Advisors in the Ministry of Finance may well stress that food security and marijuana production are not mutually exclusive and both sectors can co-exist for the benefit of the country.
We are not convinced, though, that most Barbadians have been won over about a medicinal marijuana industry. Many still view it as an extension of criminal activity and not a legitimate industry to which Barbados should be associated.
The Bajan maxim that “You can’t eat the money” is true. Food security in such an unpredictable period should be our priority. However, given the millions of dollars the island has earned from licences and fees so far, the pull factor of a marijuana industry is too strong to resist for a country that demands foreign dollars for its economic success.