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Dr Frances Chandler


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Despite valiant efforts by advocates like the late Carmeta Fraser, Bajans don’t fully appreciate the importance of food security. We still hear well-known and supposedly well-educated personalities proposing that we abandon agriculture and import all our food.

This is ironic since Barbados was a model of food security during World War II when Sir John Saint and others introduced the Local Vegetable Production (Defence) Control Order (1939) to mitigate possible food shortages resulting from shipping problems. Plantations had to plant a percentage of their lands in food crops and field inspectors ensured compliance.

We responded well to that crisis, but apparently we don’t recognise the present crisis where our food import bill has escalated to over $700 million annually and we’re struggling to keep our foreign exchange reserves at an acceptable level.

We constantly hear the excuse that the tastes of the younger generation have changed. This was confirmed in an article I came across recently entitled Consumer Trends And Attitude Towards Imports which noted: “The Barbadian consumer food market follows the trends of the US market. There is a heavy flow of travellers between the US and Barbados, and exposure to US media through cable television also positively influences the market and facilitates the adoption of US products . . . . Consumers are accustomed to imported goods and generally have a positive opinion of US products . . . and the UK is the main extraregional supplier other than the US . . . . For manufactured products, whenever the choice is available, Barbadians tend to prefer imported goods to local ones . . . .”

We’ve allowed this to happen and now we must find ways of wooing the young generation back to home-grown foods. Tourists like new food experiences so hotels and restaurants must be encouraged to serve more local fare.

I’m now on my annual visit to Canada and I’ve always admired how proud Canadians are of their farmers and how they encourage the use of local food – both on a provincial and a county basis.

Every year my brother assists with the “Locally Lambton” dinner and farmers in the county supply the inputs. There are outstanding farmers markets everywhere and local produce in supermarkets is proudly promoted as “Ontario Fresh”.

Their tourism industry lends support by publishing attractive guides encouraging visitors to “take the road less travelled for an authentic culinary experience”. In Barbados it seems as if we have to beg the tourism industry to form linkages with agriculture. While not all our farmers are on par with their Canadian counterparts, if markets were more readily available, standards would no doubt improve.

But we’re not alone in this penchant for importation. Sir Ronald Saunders says “it is shameful that golden opportunities to produce more food in the Caribbean and significantly reduce the astronomically high annual food import bill of US$4.75 billion are being woefully neglected. If this misguided trend continues, the economies of many of the countries of the region will be increasingly imperilled”.

What will it take to bring us to our senses? Jamaica seems to be making an effort. Its food import bill dipped by five per cent in the first quarter of the year due to lower imports of cereals, dairy products, eggs, coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, vegetables and fruits.

By now most of us should’ve realised that, globally, weather conditions are becoming increasingly unpredictable. Recently, Central Valley in California, which has traditionally produced enormous acreages of fruit and vegetables for the local and export markets, was described as being “on its last legs” due to a number of problems, including drought. So we can’t depend on others for all our food. Each country must provide what it can for itself.

In an effort to encourage the use of locally grown food, the Graham Gooding Trust, in collaboration with the Massy Supermarket chain, Carters General Stores and the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association, is hosting its annual Eat Bajan Day on Friday. The delis at the Massy stores will be serving a totally local menu, while hotels and restaurants are encouraged to do the same.

Let’s support local foods by “eating Bajan”, not only on Friday, but regularly. You’ll be “eating fresh”, supporting local jobs and protecting our foreign reserves.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator.