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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: All sectors matter

Dr Frances Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: All sectors matter

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I normally enjoy reading and listening to Dr Clyde Mascoll’s views on the economy as well as his recommended solutions. But having read his column Food Import Bill No Major Problem in the June 26 DAILY NATION, I think he should stick to economics and leave agriculture alone.  
First, I don’t understand why we must be an “either/or society”. We hear that tourism is the answer so we should concentrate on that. then we hear financial services will be our saviour so we should direct all our efforts there. Even within tourism we are constantly told that we must aim at the high-end market. Why not pursue all segments – sports, medical, heritage, cultural, agro, gospel, business and culinary – with equal passion?
I totally agree with Charles Herbert, actuary and businessman involved in agriculture, when he says: “Sure agriculture alone will not turn around the economy, but there is no magic pill. Our turnaround depends on a large number of small contributors and if we do not make each one important now, then we can wait and have this forced on us later.” Our sectors are interrelated and therefore we must pay attention to each for the benefit of all.
Those who seem to wish for the death of the sugar industry would be shocked to see what a severe effect its demise would have on the tourism and offshore sectors. Agriculture, and in particular, sugar, is responsible for keeping the countryside in an attractive state. I doubt whether tourists or owners of offshore businesses would want to visit or live in a country overrun with bush, garbage and rodents which are usually the result of abandoned land.
Dr Mascoll claims that import substitution will hinder economic growth. That’s because we continue to say that we’re a consuming economy rather than a productive one. Most of our companies are based on the unimaginative business of buying imported goods, marking them up (sometimes exorbitantly) and selling them to laid-back and accepting customers, with Government becoming reliant on the import duties incurred.
But is that carved in stone? Why can’t we become a producing economy? Of course, we would have to seriously change our attitude to work and wages would have to be based on productivity. In fact, the change from paying sugar factory workers on productivity to paying them by the hour is one of the factors responsible for the deterioration of the sugar industry. Sir Frank Alleyne rightly says that one of the reasons why Barbados is in the current economic mess is the country’s failure to pay workers based on productivity. However, unions seem to have thought that their function was to get the most  for workers regardless of their productivity.
While we know that we must earn more foreign exchange, doesn’t saving foreign exchange while creating jobs for our own rather than for farmers in other parts of the world count for anything? Furthermore, how much of the foreign exchange earned by tourism actually remains in or reaches Barbados? And apart from that, should we rely on the rest of the world to supply our food when it’s so often said that future wars will be over food and not oil? And shouldn’t we have control over the chemicals used in our food?
Dr Mascoll quite rightly states that larceny is a deterrent to farming, but this problem isn’t impossible to solve. Possibly as important or even more important is the stigma that remains on agriculture and the feeling that if you’re a failure at everything else, do agriculture. Even the terminology used demonstrates this. We speak  about “unskilled labour” to describe people who in many cases have more skills than managers in Bridgetown or politicians in whose hands we place our destiny.
Water supply is a concern, but if we used the 20 million gallons  per day I’m told are pumped into the sea as sewage, together with rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and hydroponics, we could deal with this.
Agriculture can be profitable. Its success in the past was because of discipline in applying proven methodology in an area fraught with variables. We need to get back there and we need more training and proper support services. Farmers well trained in the business and technical aspects succeed. Let’s support all sectors and forge ahead!
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.