Minister of Agriculture, Sen. Haynesley Benn

A leading agriculturalist has called for greater attention to be paid to the growing disparity between the distribution of imported and locally produced crops.

This call was made today by Minister of Agriculture, Senator Haynesley Benn, who said that “while the distribution system associated with imported food products was becoming more concentrated and well equipped to facilitate the weekly movement of these products into the retail and hospitality sectors, local producers were finding it difficult to forge the linkages and business relationships necessary for the distribution of their crops.”

His comments were made during the opening of a one-day workshop on “Feasibility and Design Study for an Improved Supply Chain/Commodity Distribution System”, at the Accra Beach Hotel and Resort. It was sponsored by the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation, in association with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

He noted that “despite relative significant levels of domestic production and the fact that this country has the requisite marketing facilities (there are presently 16 public markets) as well as other avenues for the sale of home-grown or manufactured products, considerable quantities of local fresh produce do not get into the main food distribution system.”

Senator Benn observed that consumers still preferred to make their purchases at supermarkets, which accounted for approximately 70% of all retail food sales in the island; and these stocked their shelves mainly with imported food items. He opined that from a social and economic perspective, “this situation must be reversed”.

According to him, the restrictions faced by local producers must be carefully identified and removed in order to give them a fair chance at being competitive. “If this country is to pursue a policy of food security and food sovereignty that would ensure future food supplies and the livelihood of its farmers, then the situation is an urgent one that requires the involvement and commitment of all stakeholders if this distribution problem is to be effectively addressed,” he underscored.

Pointing out that the agricultural sector had faced several challenges in recent years, Senator Benn said:  “The sector still continues to serve a critical and indispensable role in contributing to food security, rural development and employment, environmental preservation and in generating economic activity both directly, as well as through linkages with other sectors of the economy.”

Acknowledging that the country’s increasing food import bill was of “great concern”, the Minister indicated that the agricultural sector would be unable to supply the full food requirements of Barbados, unless a balance was found between a sustainable level of production and imports.

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