EDITORIAL: Agriculture on the rocks
Has Barbados come to the conclusion that the pursuit of an agricultural sector is no longer viable?
Have the powers that be determined that agriculture is to be abandoned and are now just waiting for the right moment to announce the decision?
Surely the apparent inactivity in the agricultural sector, particularly in the area of policymaking and leadership, is enough to give even the most optimistic the impression that agriculture is dead and we are just waiting to tell the stakeholders when the funeral is going to take place.
We don’t have the figures, but based on anecdotal evidence there surely must be more idle arable land in Barbados today than at any time in the last 100 years or so.
Industry officials are once again predicting that based on the number of acres under cultivation and the state of preparation of the sugar cane fields to date, the industry will record its lowest output of sugar ever.
With Barbados Agricultural Management Company practically broke and on the verge of temporarily shutting down activity at Portvale Sugar Factory and many of the estates it runs, only the intervention of Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy saved the jobs of those who would have been impacted.
Our leading agricultural administrators now admit publicly that praedial larceny is one of the biggest problems facing the sector, but after decades of complaints by farmers there is no structured plan to combat the challenge.
Fruit and vegetable farmers can wake up any morning to find what should have been the benefits of their toil gone. Sheep and dairy farmers lament the constant loss of their animals – and again nothing tangible is seen to suggest the matter is being addressed at the national level.
It’s now two decades since the talk of a “single factory solution” was first mentioned as the principal plank in the restructuring of the sugar industry; the plan is now said to be well advanced, but daily the people who grow cane complain they have absolutely no idea how they fit into the grand scheme of things.
The supposed important link between agriculture and the ever-so-vital tourism sector after all those years is still nebulous at best, and there is not a single national programme that can be identified as having been established and maintained to foster an interest in children for agriculture as a career choice.
Plausible in concept though it might be, Government would have to bring much evidence to suggest that what has materialised so far in the Land For the Landless Programme is anything more than the identification of land and a declaration to the strong at heart to “Farm here!”
On top of all this we have a minister of agriculture who has moved from being one of the most vocal Cabinet members (before this posting) to one of the most quiet – surpassed perhaps only by his colleague in the Ministry of the Environment.
We will admit though that in many ways this is uncharacteristic of Dr David Estwick.
If we really are serious about agriculture and recognise its importance to the economy and the livelihood of our people, particularly in these strained economic times, then the Freundel Stuart Government needs to act. Barbados cannot afford this luxury of idleness.