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New agriculture chief appointed

New agriculture chief appointed
Chief Agricultural Officer Keeley Holder. (GP)

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The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has its first female and youngest ever Chief Agricultural Officer, Keeley Holder, whose appointment took effect from February 1, 2021.

Holder, who has a long history of working in agriculture, was the Chief Executive Officer of HydroGrow Farm and Go Bananas Inc. Strong Hope, St Thomas, from 2016 to 2018. She was also a regional consultant with the Food and Agricultural Organisation from 2015 to 2016, and again from 2017 to 2018.

From 2011 to 2018, she was a Director of Southern Meats Inc. and a member of the National Agricultural Advisory Commission from 2011 to 2012.

Holder was Vice President of the National Union of Farmers from 2012 until 2018, she served as 1st Vice President of the Barbados Agricultural Society and President and Vice President of Barbados Fruit and Vegetable Growers from 2008 to 2011.

The new chief holds a BSc. in Biology and Computer Science from The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Crop Production and Water Management from Galilee College, Israel.

In an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), Holder acknowledged her familiarity with the inner workings of the Ministry and said she viewed her primary responsibility as “working to unite the various aspects of agriculture and optimising these to meet the food and nutrition security needs of the people of Barbados, with health and wellness at the core”.

Explaining this against the backdrop of the current COVID-19 environment, Holder said the need to provide support to our most vulnerable at this time highlights this now more than ever.

She said: “That Government has moved to put in place a supplemental nutritional assistance programme comprising 60 000 care packages with healthy foods, provided by those in the agricultural sector, is an exceptional move. It is essential to the health and wellbeing of this group. This emphasis on nutrition allows the most vulnerable to have a greater chance at healthier bodies and minds, giving them a greater ability to alleviate the stress associated with the pandemic.”

The new head also stressed that this constitutes part of her vision for agriculture going forward. While pointing out that she had heard the calls for agriculture to supplant tourism during this COVID-19 period, she said the idea of it replacing tourism is a non-issue and we need to stop pitting agriculture against tourism.

“As a nation, we need to commit to win-win solutions and ways to build bridges between all of our sectors,” she said.

Holder added that when speaking about agriculture, the starting point must be in understanding the multi-dimensional role that it plays in the social and economic development of the country.

“It is the basis for subsistence living; it is a wholesome hobby for the entire family; it is business, a job creator and contributor to innovation; it is a means for experiential learning and positive youth development.

“It is a preserver of nature and a steward of the lands; it is an upholder of nutritional sufficiency and the guardian of food independence; it is a contributor to the balance of payments and an engine of economic growth. There are so many facets to what we call agriculture and what I want to do is to unite and optimise these aspects to the benefit of all of our citizens,” she stressed.

The Chief Agricultural Officer said she anticipates that working together with agricultural personnel and others afield would see the sector moving to its place of prominence as “the bedrock for improving health, wellness and productivity of our greatest asset, our people”.

“I am pleased to be in a position to lead agriculture into a new future. We can only grow from strength to strength, working in partnership and unity as we fight COVID-19, and ensure food and nutrition security for all,” Holder declared. (BGIS)