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Rethink resource use

Dr Frances Chandler

Rethink resource use

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IN OUR PRESENT difficult circumstances, there needs  to be change in every sphere of activity. We must make the best use of every available resource. This became clear when I attended yet another agricultural talk  shop last week.
This time it was couched as a National Seminar on Nutrition and Food Security, and the politicians and representatives of international organizations were out in full force. I’ve been saying for some time that, especially in view of scarce resources, we need to rethink the operation of these international agencies to ensure that they’re putting resources to the best use.
These agencies seem to be involved in a preponderance of workshops and seminars, with little follow-up, except glossy reports. Case in point: I requested assistance in implementing measures to curb praedial larceny but this apparently could not be entertained – it was not within the rules, yet they continue to fund local and regional seminars and reports on praedial larceny. So what use, may I ask, are these seminars and reports?
Time is also a valuable resource which must not be wasted. These events usually start late, and to compound this problem, speakers exhibit poor time management, so they ramble on, causing further delays. On this occasion,  I had timed my arrival to avoid the usual rhetoric that is inevitable in the “welcome speeches”, but because of the late start, I had to endure the agony. When I counted  the people in the room and multiplied it by two days,  I couldn’t help but think what an impact these person hours could make on doing something really tangible.
My main reason for attending the seminar was  to discover what more could possibly be said on the agriculture and food security issue. After all, there was  a National Consultation on agriculture about 18 months ago which spent the majority of time on political and other speeches, while the input from stakeholders who actually do the work was crammed into a few hours. It was  to have resulted in the preparation of one of those famous documents known as “White Papers” but this is yet  to appear. I believe there was another such consultation this year, the output of which I have not seen.
Two weeks ago, I was asked to speak to consultants who are working on an internationally funded “Business Plan” for the Ministry of Agriculture and a “Strategic Plan” for the agricultural sector. As I look around my office, I see so many agricultural studies done by consultants from diverse countries (apparently local consultants are not knowledgeable enough to undertake these exercises) but the benefits elude me. As one participant in last week’s seminar said: “Agriculture is  the most studied sector in the country.” We don’t need any more studies. What we need is implementation of sensible measures which would give farmers confidence to invest  in the sector.
There were, however, two high points to the event,  but these could have been covered in a two-hour rather than a two-day meeting. One was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the University  of the West Indies (UWI) and McGill University in relation to exchanges of students and joint projects.  We hope that this initiative will lead to some practical  and beneficial input into the agricultural sector.
After all, the UWI, despite the present financing problems, is supported by the taxpayers of Barbados. Similarly, there is some input by local taxpayers into these international bodies, so we must get value for our money. The organizations must not lose sight of whom they are serving. I was shocked that, when participating recently in an evaluation of an agricultural organization, not one farmer was interviewed! Furthermore, are any  of these international agencies giving support to the entrepreneurship drive in Barbados?
Another high point was an indication that the international organizations present might be changing their approach so as to achieve more practical impact.  Who knows, maybe one day they may even consider  a private sector-driven agenda!
On the downside, we all came away, as is normal  at these events, with two large documents entitled Barbados Food and Nutrition Security Policy  2013-2018 and Barbados Food And Nutrition Security Plan Of Action 2013-2108. The problem remains: How do we turn “action plans” into real action?
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]