IMAGINE BARBADOS WITHOUT an agriculture sector; no cane fields and no locally produced sweet potatoes, yams and vegetables. Just try to picture this country if it were to cease crop production.
It is a concern if we are to take seriously the contention of Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite or Esworth Reid, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. They have both addressed the problem of getting and keeping Barbadian youth interested in agriculture. It is a genuine concern given the drift from farming by many of our young people.
For many years agriculture in Barbados has been synonymous with the once dominant sugar industry, even though there has been widespread diversification over the years.
In an effort to move away from a monoculture sugar industry, the country has looked to light manufacturing, tourism and financial and other services to provide a greater variety of jobs and earn foreign exchange in what is becoming a knowledge-based economy. Yet, agriculture remains far from obsolete as it is one area in which we cannot look totally beyond our shores to meet our needs.
There are still strong links between farming and most other sectors in Barbados – from grocery stores to restaurants, food processors and small businesses to researchers, all among an extended group intertwined with agriculture.
The problem has been the inability to remove the stigma and myths associated with farming – whether livestock rearing or food crop production, in particular.
Some people still do not see agriculture as a business; others cling to long gone days when workers toiled for few returns in the fields. Gone are the days when the only goal for many in agriculture was to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.
It is evident that we must transition to a new generation of farmers if our agriculture is not only to survive but more importantly to grow. Farming must be seen and given the respect of any other profession. So we must expand and improve training for new farmers. The courses offered must be promoted as having the same prestige as those in humanities, law or the STEM subjects. There must be affordable loans especially for those starting careers in agriculture, while those interested in getting involved must have access to land at affordable prices.
New initiatives such as guaranteed apprenticeships on completion of studies, fair compensation and affordable health care are as important as grants to young farmers wanting to focus on using new technology.
The best way to ensure we retain agriculture in Barbados is to appreciate the way it touches all our lives. It offers good prospects; from better health to increasing personal wealth. There is undoubtedly a good future in the food and agriculture sector for our youth.