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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Regulation needed

Dr Francess Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Regulation needed

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Barbadians tend to be “copycats”, albeit selective, ignoring those things which could take us forward while implementing those which could destroy us. We seem to think we can move forward in our development by leaving everything to someone’s discretion and by depending on people’s loyalty and commitment.
That will get us nowhere fast. The word “mandatory”, that is, required by law or rules, compulsory, obligatory, imperative, needs to be imported into the Barbadian dictionary.
For example, in the 1980s extensive research was done on cassava production for animal feed. The agronomy, mechanisation, chipping, drying and feeding trials were successful on a pilot commercial scale. But nothing further happened because the purchase of the chips was left to the discretion of feed manufacturers. The price of corn dropped shortly after the work was done and the interest waned. Consequently, there’s been no progress and every few years the topic raises its head and highly paid consultants “reinvent the wheel”.
The key to a successful cassava industry or any other lies in implementing policies which support the industry and allow it to grow. Therefore when the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) did what it does best recently and hosted yet another conference, it was concluded that since there was already a Regional Food and Nutrition Security Policy and Action Plan identifying the development of root crops, particularly cassava, as a priority, what was now needed was policy support to make substitution of cassava flour mandatory. Without mandatory use we will get nowhere until of course our foreign reserve situation becomes even more critical than it already is.
The local FAO director said that the conference was about implementation, building an industry and introducing change, not to present papers and discuss among colleagues committed to cassava. The FAO could start by changing its policy to allow funds currently used for “talk shops” to be used as grants to those interested in investing in industries such as cassava, to help the businesses get off the ground.
I observed this policy of regulation when I was involved in the Sugar Cane Industry Project around 2002/3 and electricity generation from sugar cane was being considered. There was discussion on what price the Barbados Light & Power would pay for the electricity, and while researching the topic, I found that in some countries already implementing this technology, the price paid by the power company was mandated. The result is those countries are producing electricity while we’re still talking about it.
We appeared to be taking positive steps to support local agriculture around 2006 when the Budgetary Proposals recommended regulations to assist the development of at least 16 imported products that could be produced locally. It’s now 2014 and we’re still allowing a free-for-all situation with imports and our food import bill continues to soar.
Now the Government has given Sandals permission to import whatever they need free of duty, whether or not the locally produced item is available. Of course Sandals’ PR has kicked in and we saw the huge misleading headline $4M Buy-In, giving the impression that Sandals had spent more than $4 million buying local supplies in its 16 weeks of operating here.
However, when one reads further, it’s clear that only $648 000 was spent on supplies from local manufacturers and farmers, while the rest was for purchases from local distribution companies, which as we all know are almost certain to be imported products.
Local hoteliers rightly feel they should receive the same concessions. But we musn’t allow the tourism industry to advance at the expense of the agricultural industry.
They must develop together. Whether or not imports are allowed duty-free for hotels, importation should only be allowed if a locally made product isn’t available.
Furthermore, purchasing a stated percentage of local products should be a condition to receiving other tourism incentives. Why should well over $100 000 in foreign exchange be spent so far this year on carrots when there are excellent carrots available locally and sales are slow?
All this requires a good information system and close monitoring to ensure that no one “beats the system” as now happens where quantities of duty-free products imported for public institutions far outweigh their needs.
Of course, local farmers and manufacturers must produce the necessary quality, which we have proven is possible.
Dr Francess Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]