Minister of Agriculture, Dr. David Estwick (left), and Director Emeritus of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, in discussion during a recent meeting. (A. Skeete/BGIS)

The Ministry of Agriculture is working assiduously to ensure Barbados could have its first ever National Agricultural Policy by next year.

This was disclosed by Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick, who was speaking at a meeting with prominent agriculturalist and Director Emeritus of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, recently at the Ministry of Agriculture’s headquarters at Graeme Hall, Christ Church.

Dr. Estwick said the document would form part of the Ministry’s efforts "to set out a strategic vision and chart the path for a modern agricultural sector for Barbados."

"We have to break this perception of agriculture as an 18th or 19th century, antiquated sector for the poor, rural man. We have to break that subsistence mentality… agriculture is so much more than that," he added.

The meeting, which was attended by Permanent Secretary, Michael King; Deputy Permanent Secretary, (Ag) Lennox Chandler; and Chief Agricultural Officer (Ag), Ralph Farnum, was an opportunity to discuss several issues related to the development of such a document and ways to move the sector forward.

These included the examination of the relationship between the Ministry, farmers and the consumer and the need to shift the focus of the sector from the importation of foreign goods to the production of local agricultural goods and services.

Dr. Brathwaite, who is also Interim Director of the School of Agriculture, University of the West Indies, identified several areas which he said needed to be addressed if Barbados was to take its agricultural sector to the next level.

These were: capacity building; developing a closer relationship between farmers and the market; working to decrease levels of praedial larceny through adequate legislation; increased investment in the sector, linking agriculture to valuable sectors such as tourism and manufacturing; and exploring the introduction of technology to the sector.

The former IICA head also suggested that a paradigm shift was necessary if Barbados was to develop a sustainable agricultural sector as well as minimise the rising food import bill.

"It costs $2.1 million dollars a day to feed a nation such as the size of Barbados. Multiply that by 365 days a year… Those who say agriculture is dead should talk to the food importers…the link between agriculture and food is big business," he pointed out.

With regards to the troubling issue of praedial larceny, Dr. Brathwaite said this problem was one of the biggest deterrents to agricultural production in Barbados.

He urged the Ministry to engage the public in the matter so as to sensitise Barbadians about the serious nature of crop theft and to find viable solutions.

Dr. Estwick said his Ministry was cognisant of the acute challenges praedial larceny presented to farmers, adding that the Ministry of Agriculture was in the process of fine tuning updated legislation.


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