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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Congrats, BCC


DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Congrats, BCC

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TODAY, I’m talking agriculture – prompted by an event I attended last week to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the agricultural department at Barbados Community College (BCC). I’ve been a part-time tutor for the associate degree course over the years and must say it’s gratifying to meet past students from time to time who are now pursuing interesting careers in agriculture.

In his welcome address, principal Dr Gladstone Best noted the importance of agriculture and the fact that the college had produced over 300 agricultural graduates in 21 years. However, he bemoaned the changes that had taken place in Barbados’ landscape over the years, with once productive fields in St John, where he lives, now overrun with bush.

The feature address was delivered by Arrindel Evelyn, a student of the first associate degree class who now owns his own landscaping company employing about 20 people. Arrindel reiterated the importance of agriculture and emphasised that food production must increase considerably to feed an increasing world population. He further noted that agriculture is responsible directly or indirectly for employing 45 per cent of the world’s population.

Arrindel highlighted some of the challenges faced by local farmers or “would-be farmers”, like the astronomical price of land, the terms of loans from banks and difficulties with markets. He questioned why markets were a problem now, when many years ago Barbados not only supplied the local market, but even exported fresh produce.

He emphasised to students that things had changed and therefore they must approach agriculture using modern technology and sound business principles, and explore new areas like aquaponics.

Despite difficulties faced by the industry, there are some successes, including our largest pig farm which did its own insemination and had its own lab. Arrindel however questioned why many of those using greenhouse technology seemed to have failed.

Contrary to popular belief, greenhouses don’t magically produce improved crop yields. They require a high level, not only of knowledge, but of management. Therefore, those who are inexperienced are advised to start with a simple structure, mainly to protect crops from heavy rains, birds, rats and monkeys. Sophisticated greenhouses are expensive and need experienced management.

Of course, as Arrindel noted, and as I continue to preach, you don’t need only skill but also the will if you’re to succeed. Incidentally, last weekend my four-year-old great nephew declared he had learnt at school that patience and perseverance are the paths to success. So it seems we’ve finally realised we must instil good principles from early.

The opening ceremony was followed by a “Careers in Agriculture” showcase, demonstrating that agriculture is about feeding the nation and providing economic stability and not only about “mud and hot sun”.

Although I don’t recall any mention of praedial larceny, a serious challenge to farmers, I’m pleased to report two recent arrests and convictions of crop thieves – one in the Boarded Hall Magistrates’ Court and one in the Oistins court. As Wild Coot would say, “it warmed my cockles”. Are we at last taking this seriously?

On that subject, I was encouraged to see a TV programme designed to inform the public about the Ministry of Agriculture’s work. One episode featured an interview with the minister about the new praedial larceny legislation. Of course, there’s much that can be done even under the present act, but we eagerly look forward to the new legislation.

On the sugar industry front, after a brief boost, we seem to be back to square one, with the promised monies to farmers not forthcoming as far as I know. Therefore the same cycle will repeat itself. Proper agronomic practices won’t be applied, and that, combined with the drought, will result in a continued slide. On the other hand, it’s heart-warming to see attractively packaged local sugar on our shelves. I’m told it’s also doing well in overseas markets. But of course, if we don’t produce the cane, there’ll be no sugar to package!

The present state of agriculture continues to worry farmers. Two recently told me they usually wake in the wee hours of the morning, troubled by all the challenges they face daily. One added that all the abandoned lettuce plants and the idle equipment at the recently closed farm gave him an instant headache. Farmers are passionate about their profession!

 

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email [email protected] .

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