Some of the audience in attendance at??yesterday’s town hall meeting on agriculture at the Princess??Margaret Secondary School, Six Roads, St. Philip. (A.Miller/BGIS)??

The lack of in-depth research for the agricultural sector, the rising food import bill, a dearth of investment, the unavailability of land to grow food, and the removal of the negative stigma attached to the sector, were among the issues highlighted yesterday when the first town hall meeting on agriculture was held at the Princess Margaret Secondary School, Six Roads, St. Philip.

Hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, the meeting was an opportunity for stakeholders, particularly farmers and agriculturalists to share their views and suggest ways to modernise the sector and move it forward.

One participant, Hayden Rogers, lamented that not enough market research was carried out on the agricultural sector, particularly the consumption patterns of Barbadians.

Mr. Rogers, who expressed an interest in investing in the sector, suggested that agriculture could not move forward or attract financing if relevant and pertinent data was not readily available.

"When I speak on consumption patterns I mean the retail sector, supermarkets, restaurants, people selling in food vans, food shops in town…My view is that there should be a comprehensive study done to get some indication…of what the level of consumption is in terms of food crops that we can produce here and if we can’t produce them here, see if persons through the introduction of technology can do so," he said.

Allan Kirton, a small farmer and entrepreneur from Four Roads, St. Philip said he was dismayed that Barbados was still importing many fruits and vegetables which could be grown here.

??Hayden Rogers, making a point at yesterday’s town hall meeting at the Princess Margaret Secondary School. (A.Miller/BGIS)

"It hurts my heart to see the amount of importation going on in Barbados… We should not be in this day and age importing grapefruits, oranges, [and] tangerines," he stressed.

Mr. Kirton believes that the development of a niche market for local fruits and juices could not only create jobs but bring in valuable foreign exchange.

??"Green mango juice tastes as good as any other drink, and golden apple drink, these are things that we can manufacture, [and] create jobs for more young people. We can bottle them and send them to Europe," he remarked.

William Johnson, an agricultural entrepreneur, suggested encouraging family farming, where Barbadians would be persuaded to live on and work their own lots.

"Lots should be made available for persons to live on farms and work the land…It would reduce transportation costs in terms of getting to work and home because they live there… I think we should make an effort to have programmes where we can bring in people to live on the lots and work them. The emphasis should not be to push and get into the hotel market to sell but to support themselves and their families," he recommended.

Jennifer Inniss suggested that further research into some of the plant resources on the island could have tremendous long-term benefits for the sector.

"We have a lot of potential, for example, there is the Neem Tree. We need to do research, encourage the UWI graduates to do research on these various things. There’s also the aloe [plant]. There is so much potential in a day and age when we are importing aloes, flavoured aloes, and aloe drink. We have [aloes] here," Ms. Inniss pointed out.

Several other participants cited the failure of successive governments to adequately invest in the agriculture sector and reposition it as a pillar of the economy as one of the major issues impacting its present growth.??

While acknowledging that services such as housing were important, nevertheless, audience members were concerned that not enough land was being diverted to grow food, with one participant remarking, "You cannot eat houses."

They also suggested that there was a fallacy in placing tourism and international business at the core of the local economy when the agricultural sector could not only provide food to feed the local population, but become the major foreign exchange earner for the country.

Yesterday’s meeting was another step towards the development of a White Paper on Agriculture, which will seek to reposition and transform the sector.

The town hall meetings are being held under the theme A National Dialogue on Food and Agriculture.


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