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EDITORIAL: Time to speak up, Dr Estwick


EDITORIAL: Time to speak up, Dr Estwick

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IF THERE IS ONE THING that can be said about Minister of Agriculture, Food and Water Resource Management, Dr David Estwick, it is that he can speak most vociferously on issues.

When he wants to enforce a point, his intonation captures attention and evokes a smile.

Unfortunately, he has not brought that exuberance, so passionately displayed during televised debates and on the political platform, to matters related to his ministry. Indeed, Dr Estwick’s public contribution to issues under his portfolio has been generally muted.

Most people would have been listening to hear his indubitable style in defence of the agricultural community, given the interlocking relationship it has with so many sectors. As someone versed in economics, Dr Estwick would clearly appreciate the important role agricultural development, food production, food security and water resource management all play and why they rank high on this country’s list of national priorities.

The issues evident during last year’s water problems, the ever-spiralling food import bill and the need to produce wholesome affordable food, are matters of interest to every Barbadian.

The role of agriculture has been brought sharply into focus as the economic crisis the country has been enduring from 2008 has highlighted the need for economic diversification. The important role farming, small and large, contributes by means of employment generation and enhanced agricultural output are exemplified by the growth and success of the chicken and pork sectors, and some areas of food crop production.

However, there is still much to be done especially in sugar and the sugar cane industry. There also needs to be clarity on the direction of sea island cotton, organic farming, and in hydroponics and aquaculture.

The public needs to know about much of what is being done by Dr Estwick’s team in research and development, and also if there is any negative impact on our underground or near-shore water by the run-off from farm lands. After all, we know that there is heavy usage of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers.

Dr Estwick appears to have adopted a low profile and subdued approach in matters related to his ministry; even not featuring prominently at Agrofest. This has sent a mixed message. Then when matched against what seems to be an increase in idle arable lands, particularly in parts of St John, it may create greater confusion. This may indeed be the reason why there is some level of pessimism about the future of the agricultural sector and the feeling that it is on the decline.

The public needs to know what have been the successes, the hiccups and the challenges, as we look to feed ourselves and also increase our foreign exchange earnings. This is why the public, which has been left in the dark, can only arrive at all sorts of conclusions, right or wrong.

Given the circumstances, Dr Estwick needs to lead the conversation.