AGRODOC – Agro-processing critical to expansion
Agro-processing may be defined as the transformation of agricultural produce into a different physical or chemical state which results in added value.In many parts of the world agro-processing is seen as critical to the expansion and diversification of the agricultural industry.Adding value to primary commodities can make a significant contribution to the transformation of the agricultural sector and to national development in general. Setting up vertically integrated production, processing and marketing systems can reduce gluts, scarcities and post harvest losses while expanding the market for primary agricultural products.We in Barbados have talked about this for years, yet seem very little closer to achieving this objective than we were decades ago.Small scale Although there are a few larger scale companies producing products such as canned and frozen meat and fish products, ice cream, margarine, oils and animal feeds, and some bakeries producing products for the global market, our agro-processing generally remains relatively small scale – in many cases – cottage level, and the products are mainly condiments and confectionery. There are numerous versions of pepper sauce, a few juices, jams and jellies, but no significant quantity of pickles, ketchups, soups, ready prepared meals and other innovative products.Furthermore the inputs for many of the products currently being produced are often imported.Efforts to improve the efficiency of the players in the condiments industry by facilitating their operation as a group in the ordering of inputs, using shared facilities and in collective marketing seem to have fallen flat.A number of inputs into the condiments industry have to be imported either because the raw materials are not available in sufficient quantities, or the production is not well organised. In the case of dry herb preparations, even if the volumes of fresh herbs were grown, the facilities for drying are not available commercially. Yet the technology for drying, using solar energy is well known locally, but no one seems willing to bite the bullet and carry it forward into commercial operations. It is ludicrous that we should be importing dried sorrel from the Sudan, through Trinidad, when sorrel can be grown easily here.The Food Development Officer at the BADMC must be commended on her efforts to produce cassava, sweet potato and breadfruit flours, as well as pancake mixes and other products from these local flours, but is this to remain a “kitchen operation” forever? We do not need to start with elaborate processing plants, but in the case of the preserves and condiments industries, these need to be modern, efficient and multipurpose so that production can change as required, and expansion can take place systematically.The plan for expanding and diversifying the products from the sugar cane plant has remained a plan since about 2003, while the rum industry continues to import a large percentage of its molasses.Meanwhile the sugar industry is on the verge of collapse. The Sea-Island-Cotton industry continues to produce the primary product – lint – which remains stored in the ginnery in St George. What of the plans drawn up since 2004 to produce finished products which would then be integrated with the local fashion industry? No information is forthcoming.It was interesting to read a document Agriculture And Agro-Processing Sector Strategy For The North Cape Province Of South Africa” (www.northern-cape.gov.za/oldsite/ncpgds/agric/agriculture.pdf) and note that the problems they experience with their agricultural sector are similar to ours and that some of the solutions put forward are similar to the solutions which were put forward to our government through the National Commission on Agriculture since last July. LinkagesThese include the development of backward, forward and side stream linkages in agribusiness and co-ordination of these linkages as well as public/private sector collaboration.However, locally, I see little collaboration. On the contrary, I have observed that the few proactive persons attempting to go forward with promising projects are more often than not faced with stumbling blocks, with the projects being tied up in bureaucracy which eventually strangles and kills them. This attitude does not seem to be in keeping with a policy aimed at growing the economy which is crucial, especially under the prevailing conditions.The Agrodoc has 40 years’ experience in agriculture in Barbados, operating at different levels of the sector. Send any questions or comments to: The Agrodoc, C/o Nation Publishing, Fontabelle, St Michael.