Senator lobbies for farmers to pay less for water
By Marlon Madden
An independent senator is calling on the Government to provide cheaper water rates for farmers in an effort to help build food security and, by extension, help tackle the scourge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The suggestion has come from Senator Chelston Brathwaite who insisted that the government should be further subsidising the rates for the agriculture sector as a major way of ensuring more food was produced locally.
Declaring that Barbados was at a stage in its development where a more inclusive and strategic approach was needed with respect to the management of water, Brathwaite said offering subsidised rates across the sector would address a range of issues.
“The agricultural sector must be given priority in the distribution of water to support food security. No matter what kind of agriculture we engage in in our country, water will be necessary. Water is an essential ingredient for agricultural development,” said Brathwaite.
“I am of the view that the agricultural sector should be provided with water at subsidised rates because we are not only attacking the problem of water distribution and use, we are attacking a fundamental weakness in our country, which is food insecurity.”
Brathwaite made the comments on Wednesday while debating the Barbados Water Authority (Amendment) Bill. This law makes provision for the management of wells, the institutional strengthening of the BWA, the establishment of water protection zones, and related matters.
“Food security is one of the challenges of our time. In a country in which one in every three children is overweight; where 80 per cent of deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases; where high incidents of diabetes, hypertension, cancer and obesity are rampant; where the evidence suggests that poor nutrition is a contributing factor to these challenges; where the bill for health is exploding, then the agricultural sector has a critical role to play in helping us deal with the challenges of health,” he contended.
“And where health is the concern of every citizen of this country, and where the tsunami of non-communicable diseases must be arrested if we are going to have a productive population going forward, then it is critically important that the agricultural sector is given priority in water distribution and in the allocation of appropriate financial resources.”
From May 1, 2022, farmers registered with the Ministry of Agriculture were able to access water at a standard rate of $1.80 per cubic metre, the equivalent of 220 gallons.
Brathwaite argued that Barbados must produce more than the current approximately 20 per cent of its food needs to effectively tackle the NCD scourge
“Therefore, as we talk about water, water for agriculture should be a priority in our country. And so, subsidies for water in agriculture, in my view, can help to reduce the health care bill,” he reasoned.
Brathwaite also raised questions about the amount of water being wasted even though the country is considered water scarce.
“In terms of the amount of water we capture for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses, if the data suggests that we only capture 10 per cent, then clearly, in my estimation, we are not water scarce,” he said, while also expressing concern about leakage.
“The restrictions which are normally adopted when we have drought conditions must be looked at critically and determined whether some of these should not be maintained over longer periods of time in order to ensure that the country has a supply of water that can support industrial, agricultural and domestic use,” he suggested.