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DOWN TO EARTH: Support services needed for farmers

The Agrodoc

DOWN TO EARTH: Support services needed for farmers

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I HAVE STATED BEFORE in this column that there are many opportunities available to farmers, both in the area of import substitution and in that of niche exports. However, the necessary services, whether supplied by the private or public sectors, must be accessible to them so that they can take advantage of these opportunities.
First of all, of course, they must have access to land. In recent times, there seems to be no such thing as “agricultural” land and “development” prices are being asked for all land. To curb this tendency, there needs to be a strict land use policy where certain areas are designated for agriculture and where its use cannot be changed with the stroke of a pen.  
As it is now, many agricultural landowners seem to  see the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”   and run their land into bush, hoping to have it re-designated as development land. Hence this land is held in an unproductive state for many years.
If we take the view that we do not own land, but are merely stewards of that land, then people who are not good stewards should suffer the consequences, that is, they should be forced to lease their land at a reasonable price, or pay extremely high land taxes.
In some countries, this land would be taken from its owners, but I am not advocating such a rash step at this stage.
Of course, finance is another important requirement. It is amazing how easy it is to obtain a loan to buy a car, household appliances or even to go on a holiday, compared to borrowing for  investment in equipment for use in agriculture.  I heard of a case recently where a farmer borrowed a small sum of money for his farming operation and dutifully repaid it within the designated time, but when he applied for a slightly larger loan to invest in further technology, he was refused. Could this be fair? His deposits on his farm account held by the same bank would have made it obvious that the farm was being operated well.
Just as the tourism industry receives incentives, the agricultural industry should have access to a similar level of incentives.  Of course, there are incentives offered,  but in spite of the many statements by politicians over the years about the removal of “discretion” by public officers in granting these incentives as well as the provision of the incentives “up front” rather than reimbursing the farmer for payments already made, I do not think there has been much change here.
I would say, though, that the officers who carry out the  disbursements, based on the decisions of their superiors, appear to be extremely helpful and efficient. armchair philosophers
We have discussed the stealing of agricultural produce ad nauseum, without much change in the approach to this by authorities. Then there are those “armchair philosophers” who keep saying that farmers must guard their crops just as merchants guard their merchandise.
How can you compare guarding a few hundred acres of land with guarding a building?  There have been attempts by farmers to install security cameras, particularly in poultry houses, but then one hears that the evidence obtained from these cameras is not admissible in court. In addition, in times when you are asked to keep the cost of living down, patrols add to the cost of a crop. There has been a call for a change to the Praedial Larceny Act, but in my opinion, even in the absence of this, much could be achieved if the present act were enforced.
Affordable crop insurance is another area which comes to the fore every few years, but quickly disappears into oblivion. This needs to be actively pursued and a satisfactory solution found.
Access to affordable water, either from wells or the public supply is, of course, another prerequisite. Of course, the building of catchments to collect rainwater, both directly and from run-off, is to be encouraged.
A modern, user-friendly information system which provides  production information to the marketers and market information to the producers  would provide a tremendous fillip to the industry.
Various forms of system in place at one time or  another have not been sustained.
In the actual growing of crops, services like land preparation and mechanical  planting (particularly for the smaller farmer), diagnostics, modern, environmentally-friendly and effective inputs, productive labour, training, both in the business and technical aspects of agriculture, as well as research  and technical assistance are all essential to success.
• The Agrodoc has over 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 Co. Ltd., Fontabelle, St Michael.