The Ministry of Agriculture’s series of town hall meetings on agriculture ended yesterday, with several stakeholders calling for an end to the red tape which they believe is hampering the sector, and for more research and development to address the problems affecting farmers.
These were among the issues highlighted by members of the audience during the near three-hour session at the Alexandra School in Queen’s Street, St. Peter.
Other areas discussed included the retooling of the Ministry’s incentive and rebate scheme; the ongoing concern about the rising food import bill; the increasing incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases; and the need for Barbadians to stop bashing the agricultural profession and instead develop innovative ways to encourage more young Barbadians to get involved in the field.
Neville Cato, who has been involved in agriculture for 37 years, expressed concern that not enough young Barbadians were aware of the basics of agriculture, such as growing crops.
Describing the situation as "sad", he, therefore, called for the reintroduction of agricultural science in schools. "One of the first mistakes we made in this country was not to teach agricultural science in schools. We need to do that if we are going to push agriculture and get it to a point where we are going to be successful," he said.
Mr. Cato was also concerned that there would be no continuity in agriculture, with not enough young persons working in the field.
"I work with one of the largest farms in St. Peter…We have 14 workers and do you know the shocking thing about the workers? Seven of them are over 65 and four are over 60…My advice to the Ministry is to take agriculture to the schools," he pointed out.
Noted Agriculturalist Senator Dr. Francis Chandler called on law enforcement officials to carry out searches in an effort to stamp out praedial larceny in Barbados.
"I have always said you can search for arms, ammunitions and drugs or anything but you can’t search for produce? Is it somehow different?…Even with the present act, though it is not perfect, it can work if it is enforced," she said.
Senator Chandler also suggested forging a closer relationship between the supply and demand aspects of the local agricultural sector, where farmers would know exactly what crops their clients required.
"The Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture put forward, through the National Agricultural Commission since 2009, a plan where you would take all the markets which are the restaurants and the hotels, the supermarkets and agro processing, the cruise ships and the institutions and twin them with the suppliers, which are large and small farmers and home gardeners," she said.
Phil Perry of the Organic Farmers Association was concerned about the marketing of local produce. He suggested that a central agency could be established which would be tasked with selling on the farmers’ behalf.
In addition, he called on government to give more support to small farmers by way of equipment rentals.??????????????????????
Dairy and livestock farmer, Annette Beckett, urged Barbadians to stop paying lip service to the agricultural sector and farmers.
"We, all of us in agriculture, have to look at how we are selling the sector. Of course there are problems in agriculture. I think everybody here has a story about some problem they have had but if we want to go forward, we need to stop knocking agriculture and then say to people ???come in,’" she said.
Ms. Beckett also suggested that the Ministry take a look at its incentive scheme, particularly how it defined the term ???incentive’ and expressed concern about the way bureaucracy impacts the administrative side of the business.
Entitled: A National Dialogue on Food and Agriculture, the sessions were a forum for farmers, agriculturalists, agronomists and ministry officials to discuss critical areas pertaining to the sector.
The information garnered at the meetings will go towards the development of a White Paper on Agriculture.
The preparation of that document is but the first step in a process that will lead to the transformation and the repositioning of the local agricultural sector. It is expected that the White Paper on Agriculture will be available in early July.
Persons may however, still contribute to the discussion on agriculture by visiting the Ministry of Agriculture’s website at www.agriculture.gov.bb.