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THE ISSUE: Entire nation must commit to food security


Natasha Beckles

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Given our $700 million annual food import bill, Barbados’ heavy dependence on imported food is a major talking point.
Dr Chelston Brathwaite, chairman of the National Agricultural Commission and director emeritus of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, recently noted that while it was impractical for Barbados to grow all the food its citizens required, it was in the country’s interest to produce as much as it could.
“It is well known that we are only producing a limited amount of our food requirements.
“When your food is being produced by someone else, you are clearly subject to the whims, fancies, prices and quality of that someone else, and there could be a time when you get no food,” he said in the June 13, 2012 MIDWEEK NATION.
Brathwaite suggested that Barbadians may soon have to make a critical choice about their dietary patterns.
“A significant amount of what we eat is based on five commodities – wheat, rice, corn, soya beans and potatoes . . . . We don’t produce them, yet they are the basis of our daily diet . . . but there is nothing that says a people cannot change,” he maintained.
He added that any effort to boost local food production should be born out of a sense of national commitment, duty and pride.
“There is no place in the world where the agricultural sector has done well without national commitment and without the commitment of the people. I’m not only talking about the farmers; I’m talking about the nation.
“If agriculture is going to do well, a nation must commit to the agricultural sector; a nation must be serious about its agriculture,” the agricultural expert said.
Meanwhile, the Agrodoc column in the June 15 MIDWEEK NATION suggested that stakeholders in the fishing industry need to come together to look at ways in which the industry can be made more efficient so that Barbados can become more self-sufficient in fish.
Imported fish was valued at $23.8 million in 2010.
“This figure seems to be high, considering that we are surrounded by the sea. Of course, the imports include fish such as salmon, sole, halibut and others not found in tropical waters, but it also includes about $5.3 million in dolphin, kingfish and flying fish which are found in our waters.
“A recent study by the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) showed that the fishing industry here was worth more than $52 million,” the article stated.
It was noted that a few small aquaculture operations exist but there needs to be further investment and investigation in this area since the demand is there for freshwater fish such as tilapia.
“There is also room for aquaponics which integrates fish farming and crop farming.
“The waste from the fish provides fertilizer for the crop and the crop cleans the water for use by the fish.
“Research has shown that crop yields using this system are much higher than those from field-grown crops,” the Agrodoc said.
In the February 20 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY, managing director of Super Centre Limited David Neilands noted that as the cost of food, energy and freight continues to escalate, more support needs to be given to agricultural research and development.
He said farmers should be producing crops like zucchini, mushrooms and baby corn for export.
“If we could supply mushrooms in Barbados to the retail trade and the entire tourist industry in this country, that alone would be a substantial saving in foreign exchange,” he said.
Notably, in the May 31 DAILY NATION, Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick harshly criticized Government for failing to invest more heavily to transform and reposition the sector.
And he threatened to resign if he did not get support in his mission.
He said the ministry had this year been allocated a mere 1.5 per cent of the National Budget, when other countries that understood the importance of agricultural diversification and contribution to economic growth and linkages were spending six and seven per cent.
Of the $3.5 billion Budget for fiscal year 2011 to 2012, a total of $57.3 million was allocated to agriculture.
Stakeholders representing a wide cross-section of interests who gathered for the national consultation on a White Paper On Agriculture heard Estwick tell of being “fed up” with a situation dating back to the 1970s in which he charged “Government after Government” had failed to make adequate provision for agriculture.
He said “this slow pace of diversifying the Barbados economy is exactly why it is that the external shocks become so debilitating to us”.
The White Paper On Agriculture will, among other things, provide the policy framework for a medium-term national agricultural strategy which Estwick said had up to now been non-existent.
He appealed for the “requisite capital” to enable Barbados’ dominant community of small to medium-sized farmers to build a “modern agricultural infrastructure” that would cushion the shocks from a contracting supply of food from international sources and provide food security.
“It is either that we decide to do this or all of us gine through the eddoes,” the minister warned.
In last Tuesday’s Budget, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler announced that the agricultural sector will soon have access to an extra $20 million to keep it on its feet.
He also revealed several incentives geared to getting more Barbadians involved in agriculture as part of an upgraded assistance programme.
Over the next five years, agro businesses will have access to $20 million in financing from a proposed Hotel Refurbishment, Energy Efficiency and Food Production Fund.
The minister also revealed that a rebate for returning idle lands into agricultural production would be increased from $500 per hectare up to $1 000 per hectare. In addition, $3 million would be allocated to re-establish the tractor cultivation scheme.
The pig farming industry also got an incentive, with farmers now set to earn a $500 rebate for each gilt (young sow) raised to breeding stage as well as a 50 per cent rebate up to $4 000.

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