EDITORIAL: Agrofest more a showcase than showpiece
LAST WEEKEND’S AGROFEST could not come at a more appropriate timeas the country is going through an economic crisis. Unfortunately, the event doesn’t seem to attract large agro-businesses but is used to showcase the smaller cottage-type industries.
This is so much the case that James Paul, chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society, challenged exhibitors to move beyond the small business mentality and move their business to the next stage. This is easier said than done as there is not a big enough market or capital investment.
Agrofest is almost in the nature of an all-inclusive flea market with not nearly enough emphasis either on promoting the benefits of agricultural production to the economy or on encouraging careers in agriculture. It is more of a showcase than a showpiece.
The annual fair should not be judged on the number of people attending but on the quality and variety of agricultural production, and the marketing, packaging and grading of the products to make an impact on consumer appeal and the tourism industry.
Agriculture, as we know it, is a casualty of our history. The Front Page picture of Member of Parliament for St Thomas Cynthia Forde and her entourage picking cotton in last SUNDAY SUN reinforces that stigma. Though no doubt well intentioned, this gesture does little to inspire young people to take up the vocation.
Unfortunately, many young people do not find this area of endeavour appealing for many reasons. Though the organisers have encouraged schoolchildren to attend Agrofest, the stigma attaching to agricultural pursuits and its historical connection militate against these efforts.
The staging of Agrofest also amplified concerns about the parlous state of agriculture as we are in the month of March and there has been no mention of the start of the sugar crop, which in earlier times would have been well under way since January.
This should be a wake-up call for Government, which has announced that it is prepared to spend $400 million to revitalise the sugar industry and its by-products for the production of energy and ethanol and molasses for rum production.
It makes sense, in our view, for the rum producers to get directly involved in the production of sugar cane in order to enhance rum production as a long-term investment, rather than rely on Government to make that investment.
In the same vein, those manufacturers who process by-products of pork should get seriously involved in large-scale pig production and research into quality feed, which will result in leaner and top-quality pigs for ham production.
Unless this is done, it will make little sense restricting imports merely to protect manufacturers. The same goes for chicken, for unless production is done on a large scale, we will never be able to achieve economies of scale sufficient to bring down costs and the eventual price to consumers.