GUEST COLUMN: Hope in cotton
BARBADOS is at present in serious financial and economic difficulty mainly because of world economic problems over which it has no control.
At the moment, the main contributor to the gross domestic product of Barbados is the tourist industry which, if it failed to deliver tourists and their dollars by plane and by ship for even a short period, because of problems up north, could result in immediate collapse of the Barbados economy and starvation of our people in Barbados within weeks resulting from non-arrival of food from abroad.
Apart from tourism, offshore banking and agriculture have been the mainstay of the Barbados economy.
Agriculture would seem to come next to tourism in importance in the Barbados economy for two main reasons: its importance in keeping Barbadians from starving in any case of regional or worldwide stoppage (temporary or otherwise) of international transport, and its importance in providing foreign currency from the sale abroad of unique animal or plant products and by-products. These include special rum and sea island cotton garments and accessories which cannot be produced easily and more economically by the larger countries.
The halcyon days of sugar production for sale abroad are long gone. What of other crops and livestock? The only two products which automatically present themselves are Blackbelly sheep and sea island cotton.
Blackbelly sheep, developed in Barbados as world-class producers in the field of low-fat lamb and mutton, still have an important role to play in the production of quality meat in and for Barbados. However, firstly, previous exports of the gene pool have resulted in other countries (for example Venezuela) having flocks of sheep which, in phenotype, look far better than the vast majority of our local animals and are being grown on a commercial scale at a much lower cost than could be realised in Barbados.
Secondly, it would most certainly take Barbados many years to develop a challenge to those countries in the overseas sale of Blackbelly stock and quality lamb and mutton, if indeed this is still a possibility. Indeed the future situation may well be one in which Barbados ends up importing such produce, as has been the case with the Barbados cherry industry.
In spite of the continuing intensive research being done on other quality cottons, sea island cotton, when grown in Barbados and other islands of the Eastern Caribbean, still produces a cotton lint of superior quality.
For example, Martin Carstarphen IV, the fourth-generation son of a financially-sound textile manufacturing firm in the United States, took cotton yarn, mechanically grown and harvested in Barbados in the cotton crop year 1985-1986 and had that yarn manufactured into various 100 per cent Barbados sea island cotton products which were then sold to interested buyers in various countries.
He found that one pound of cotton lint, valued at $20, (up from $10 because of his intervention) produced:
(a) six pairs of socks sold wholesale to London purchasers and at Harrods of London for a wholesale price of $180-$240 and then sold retail for $360-$480 or $500; or
(b) one sweater sold wholesale for $250 and retail for $500; or
(c) two polo shirts sold wholesale for $280 and retail for $560.
All of the above point to a restructured sea island cotton industry as being the most easily and quickly developed agro-industrial answer to the immediate and pressing problem of finding a quick income-generating source of assistance to our ailing sugar industry.
The sugar sector could then concentrate more fully on the manufacture and sale of items such as quality rums and rum-based products.
This article was submitted as a Letter to the Editor.