Steps are being taken to devise a strategy to “bridge the gap” between education and training and the agricultural and fisheries sector in Barbados, as a means of stimulating the economy, creating jobs and reducing food imports.
This was revealed by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Andrew Gittens as he delivered the feature address, on behalf of the Minister Dr. David Estwick, at a stakeholder consultation on the skills needs assessment for the sector. It was held yesterday at the Savannah Hotel.
The Ministry of Agriculture worked with the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development, under the European Union-funded Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS), to conduct a study last year.
The survey targeted 300 people employed in agriculture and 200 others who worked in fisheries. The findings, presented at the consultation, showed that the majority of respondents were self-taught and were open to training opportunities.
Mr. Gittens explained that the consultancy “was intended to identify the current gaps in education and training, as well as the changing and emerging occupation and skills requirement within the sector.”
The aim, he added, was to ensure that they not only had a “well-trained cadre of staff”, but they also had a better view of the skills and relevant training required to ensure the development of agriculture and fisheries in Barbados.
Mr. Gittens further noted that the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation would also be involved in the process, as it was necessary for a policy to be created informing the education curriculum at the secondary, post-secondary and tertiary levels on the subject matter.
According to the Permanent Secretary, the time had come for training in agricultural practices to be revisited and modernised to meet the new demands of the sector. He also expressed the view that there must be a change in mindset about agriculture, as it was much more than tilling the soil and harvesting.
One of the consultants, Ann Southall, expressed a similar view, as she highlighted an aging population and difficulty in attracting more young people to the sector, as Barbados’ “biggest problems” in its quest to create a robust agriculture and fisheries sector.
“What motivates young people now is using apps and new technology and agriculture is perceived by a lot of people as being outside in the hot sun, digging in the soil. But it’s different now, it’s actually driven by technology and science,” said the Human Resource Development and Training Expert in Agriculture as she spoke with the media on the sidelines of the consultation.
It was with this in mind that Ms. Southall suggested that not only should emphasis be placed on exposing children to agriculture within the schools, but also on the “new, exciting jobs” available such as food technologists, scientists, lawyers.
“I think it’s a matter of taking school children on visits. There’re some exciting innovations going on in Barbados that they don’t see. You’ve got aquaponics, permaculture at Walkers Nature Reserve, even biomass fuel. I don’t think youngsters realise how much money can actually be made from agriculture. So it’s all about informing people,” the expert added.
She also praised the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management on its Grow Well, Eat Well campaign, noting it was a great initiative to encourage people to plant more food as a means of reducing the high food import bill.