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GUEST COLUMN: Whither agriculture?


E. COLERIDGE PILGRIM

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In its struggle to rise from the abyss of being a Third World country, Barbados has, quite reasonably, placed great reliance on the development of its tourist industry and in developing other methods of attracting greater numbers of more affluent visitors to its shores.However, much larger countries, with much more land space and more buoyant and diversified infrastructures than ours, have discovered the necessity of being able to feed their populations in times of natural disasters and/or financial stress. Barbados, with its small land space, high density of population and ever increasing population numbers, is in a particularly precarious position and one which becomes more critical with every acre taken out of agriculture for use in some other sector where it may produce greater financial and economic returns at this time.The picture is clouded somewhat because of the increasing tracts of land being left idle as a result of the continuing decrease in the quantity of land being planted in sugar cane, which crop is decreasing in volume and value with each passing year. Such idle lands are, and will increasingly continue to be, under pressure for conversion to other non-agricultural uses.
Three-pronged approachA three-pronged approach to the resolution of the present agricultural crisis is now proposed, as follows:• Continue and intensify the programme being developed by the present Minister of Agriculture for bringing people back to profitable local food farming and backyard food production and storage,• quickly develop a properly organised and integrated agro-industrial entity such as a restructured Sea Island Cotton industry which will utilise only a small acreage of agricultural land in the development of a substantial and economically viable export trade complex, and• keep, for future intensive agricultural use, lands now being thrown out of cultivation or left fallow, by placing such lands under a temporary system of viable agricultural use pending further agricultural development along the lines which I have heard enunciated by the Minister of Agriculture.With respect to the third approach, I would propose the planting of all idle agricultural lands in Dwarf coconuts on the graded contour and, for the time being, under-planted with suitable grass and developed for grazing by black belly sheep.
Export coconut waterIt is understood that a process for storage of coconut water so that it retains its quality of flavour and composition has been developed, and is being further refined, so that any coconut water not required for use in Barbados – and it would take a long time to reach that point – could be sold overseas. When one adds the facts that:(a) coconut trees are among the most highly resistant of tropical fruit trees to high velocity cyclonic winds such as hurricanes,(b) tremendous increases in numbers of black belly sheep available for slaughter in Barbados would be achieved,(c) the grasslands under partial coconut shade would be readily available for the planting of short term food crops if, as, and when required, it would seem that such a development of idle lands would be in keeping with the immediate need for Barbados to find a profitable means of keeping our scarce and forever dwindling agricultural acreage as a “bank” for present and future food production.Some of our agriculturalists may wish to develop other proposals for scrutiny by the “powers that be”.

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