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Agricultural confusion 1

rhondathompson, [email protected]

Agricultural  confusion 1

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It is important to state at the outset that among the topics with which I am least familiar are sports and agriculture.
However, from time to time, one must conquer one’s fears and engage unfamiliar issues when these are of immediate interest to the reading public.  
As such, this and next week’s attention is turned to the “vexed” issue of agriculture in all its manifestations, beginning with a reflection on the reaction (or over-reaction) of the Minister of Agriculture [Dr David Estwick] last week to what he said was his Government’s tardiness in dealing with policies that impact on this sector.
Although this reaction was the most recent, it was not the most extreme reflection of internal dissatisfaction within the Stuart administration regarding its own performance. To be sure, the event associated with a group identified as the Eager Eleven was also a reflection of frustration at that time, and Minister David Estwick’s reaction speaks volumes about the extent to which these people were perhaps farsighted and not short-sighted.  
As we amble towards the election over the next six months, it will no doubt become apparent to the sceptics that sound and decisive leadership, along with the coordination of Government’s activities, are essential to good governance. Thus far, such sceptics have been arguing that the component missing from our current leadership is “charisma”, which they argue is highly “recommended” but not “required”.
This and other situations where centralized coordination is needed present clear evidence to the contrary.
The specific thrust of Minister Estwick’s concern, however, was related to the agricultural sector. In all fairness, his concerns about this sector are neither new nor simple to address and this is perhaps why no minister of agriculture in recent times has been particularly successful.
He can therefore take some comfort in the fact that the lack of apparent interest in agriculture is less about “his” Government’s priorities and more about the apparent reality that agriculture has not been one of the sectors that appears to be providing the types of returns we get from tourism, the offshore sector or even manufacturing.
As such, “we” have for sometime been turning our attention towards other sectors with greater fervour since these appear to be “bringing home the bacon”. Contrary to popular belief, this is neither new nor peculiar to Barbados as evidenced by Errol Barrow’s “No Cane Blade” speech half-a-century ago and the fact that there is no agricultural sector to speak of in Antigua, St Kitts and Nevis or the exceedingly prosperous island of Bermuda.
There seems to be a presumption that the non-prioritization of agriculture is a huge mistake. I have consistently argued (perhaps from a position of naivety) that it is prudent to prioritize other sectors since these appear capable of achieving levels of efficiency that agriculture is unable to in an island this size.
Although sceptical, I am prepared to accept the argument that we need to develop large-scale agriculture more in Barbados and have frequently listened attentively to discussions relating to the “how”. Such conversations invariably speak to superficial issues that impact on small farmers but have seldom been framed in the context of a national developmental programme.  
It can also be recalled that late Prime Minister David Thompson’s initial Budget was one noteworthy attempt to prioritize agriculture and was therefore labelled an “Agricultural Budget”. It focused record resources on this sector; however, it continues to struggle.
It therefore seems clear that the problems which plague this sector are systemic and in my own humble, unsophisticated and agriculturally naive opinion, relate to three factors that are similar to the factors of production – namely land, labour and capital, and instead of entrepreneurship, I have inserted predial larceny.  
I will explore each of these issues next week with a view to seeking a greater understanding of the reasons why the agricultural project hasn’t been working here.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).