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DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]


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ALTHOUGH IN MANY COUNTRIES the population is decreasing, the global population is still increasing.

As Luigi Guarino, from the Global Crop Diversity Trust, told the BBC: “As the global population rises and the pressure increases on our global food system, so does our dependence on the global crops and production system that feeds us.”

There seems to be an increasing reliance on a small group of crops, which means that the failure of any of these crops will cause major problems globally.

The United Nations and other international agencies have warned that there needs to be biologically diverse local food systems less susceptible to global changes. In other words, we all need to increase our own food security. We’ve been talking about this for years, but although some progress has been made, it is less than satisfactory. So our food import bill still stands at over $700 million annually, at a time when our foreign reserves are under pressure.

When we rely too heavily on imports and neglect our own agriculture, we’re at the mercy of large corporations overseas and food prices can soar. These inflated prices are in part caused by climate change induced floods and droughts, as well as the diversion of large areas of land and crops to the production of biofuels rather than food. With our new social responsibility tax of two per cent on all imports, imported food will become even more expensive.

We can do better. We need to heed our local food advocates like Carmeta Fraser, Rita Springer and Marion Hart and “Eat what we grow and grow what we eat”. They have all shown us ways we can prepare local foods in an attractive and tasty way that will also be acceptable to our tourism industry. So not only should we be eating what we grow, we should be offering our visitors the local cuisine experience. This would result in a much larger percentage of the tourism dollar staying in Barbados.

There needs to be more investment in agriculture so that the latest technologies can be employed and efficiency can be improved, and there needs to be more loyalty to our own farmers. They, on the other hand, must do better planning and work together rather than against each other.

Cheaper imported food is not always best. Many of these foods have been in storage for extensive periods and have been treated with chemicals to extend their storage lives. Local foods have the advantage of being fresh from the field, and more nutritious. Our local root crops have been shown to be more nutritious than the white potatoes which are imported in large quantities. 

Graham Gooding was a Barbadian scientist who worked assiduously to diversify Barbados’ agriculture by producing a wider variety of food crops and vegetables to reduce the food import bill and even export. He was also interested in agro-processing, and initiated the production of yam flakes in the 1960s.

I’m sure Gooding would’ve been pleased that some progress has been made by the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation with the production of well-packaged branded cassava, breadfruit and sweet potato flours. But production is still on a small scale. Private sector investment is needed to increase the scale of production, which should in turn result in a reduced price, making the product affordable to all.

Another success story is the production of a 40 per cent cassava bread, achieved through collaboration between the Food and Agricultural Organisation and Purity Bakeries and which is now available commercially.

Projects like these are necessary to support increased diversification of our agriculture, especially production on lands no longer in sugar cane.

After his death in 1987 a trust was set up in Gooding’s memory. In keeping with his ideals, the trust, with support from private sector companies, hosts Eat Bajan Day every year to encourage the public to eat only local foods. Massy Stores has collaborated every year by offering a menu from local ingredients in its delis. Local restaurants are also encouraged to do the same.

Carters General Stores has consistently supported the event by allowing the trust to sell fruit trees in its store. This is another effort to encourage the public to grow more food.

This year Eat Bajan Day will be held on Friday. The fruit tree sale will be on Friday and Saturday. We look forward to the public’s support.

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