Making good of this land, our very own
ALL IS?CLEARLY?NOT?WELL with our agriculture. Not very long ago Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick was criticizing the Government harshly – and threateningly – for failing to invest more heavily in its transformation and repositioning.
“It is either that my administration going tek me seriously or I gine resign; simple as that!” an enraged Dr Estwick roared to a hushed audience of stakeholders – representing a wide cross section of interests – who had gathered for a national consultation on a White Paper On Agriculture at the Savannah Hotel.
He had complained that his ministry had this year been allocated a mere 1.5 per cent of the national budget, when other countries, which understood the importance of agricultural diversification and its contribution to economic growth, were apportioning six and seven per cent.
A total of $87.4 million, inclusive of $57.3 million in non-statutory expenditure, was allocated to agriculture for the 2012-2013 fiscal year; much the same as that out of the national budget of $3.5 billion for the year 2011-2012.
The White Paper On Agriculture was, among other things, to provide the policy framework for a medium term national agricultural strategy, which Dr Estwick argued had been non-existent because of our obsession with the notion of a service-driven economy “articulated by our international economic partners”.
We haven’t heard much complaining from Dr Estwick in recent times, and dare not assume that because of it the minister is any happier since May when he was all fired up. If we will go by Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) CEO James Paul’s continual expressed agonies, agriculture is sick, agriculture ain’t well, with apologies to RPB.
Mr Paul’s complaint of the unnecessary importation of food products, which can be produced and are produced here, is deafening. Some hotels and other food service entities continue to sidestep the locally produced.
The latest, says Mr Paul, is a luxury hotel’s breaking of a long-standing arrangement with a small turkey producer for importation of the bird. The BAS head proffers that it says to the farming sector that at “the slightest sign of difficulty the hotel sector is apparently prepared to jettison these initiatives in favour of the easy way out”. Which must be to pay less.
Then there is the conundrum of Barbadian products being blocked by CARICOM partner countries, as their own items “flood” our market.
The Government itself is being advised by stakeholders to show its commitment to locally produced food by making it its first preference.
We make no case that the transformation and repositioning of our agriculture will be easy. But it does seem too many stakeholders are at variance. It’s time we hear from Dr Estwick again!