Efforts are under way to develop a project utilising cassava for chicken feed here, which should result in an overall reduction of food prices, enhanced food security, and reduced dependency on food and feed imports.

If all goes as planned , by the end of next month a joint public and private sector committee, aimed at spearheading a feasibility study and the overall project implementation, should be installed and the terms of reference finalised for Government’s approval.

Word of this came today as over 50 stakeholders, including processors, farmers, representatives from Pinnacle Feeds Ltd., and regional and international partner organisations met at the Sherbourne Conference Centre for a half-day seminar on ‘Developing Cassava for Food & Feed in Barbados’ .

In addressing the meeting, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Haynesley Benn, pledged Government’s commitment to the project, while urging practitioners to play their part to expedite the process.

“Whatever there is and whatever it will take to make this venture become a reality, let us put it on the table…let us make sure that in a year or so we can boast of locally produced feed from cassava as opposed to corn,” he encouraged.

Minister Benn, who admitted that he was “heartened by what he was hearing”, spoke of follow-up discussions with the Prime Minister, whom he described as being “keen on this process as well.”

Describing the venture as “exciting”, the Agriculture Minister said he had also held discussions with the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Senator Darcy Boyce, regarding the prospects of taking 1,000 acres of land at the Barbados Agricultural Management Co. Ltd. (BAMC) and put it aside for food production. The majority of this would be for cassava production.

“Let us put our hands to the plough and our heads together,” he urged, while imploring industry personnel to avail themselves of the rebates and incentives offered by Government.

In addressing the seminar, President of the BAS, Wendell Clarke, alluded to the rising cost of chicken feed, charging that the time had passed when extra money could be used to purchase feed, since one now required a “bank loan” to do so.

“It is expedient that we have seminars like this, since we have no choice but to find ways and means of reducing input costs, of which feed is primary,” he said.

The BAS President , who expressed the hope that the project would be expedited in a timely fashion, called for a fact-finding team to be sent to Columbia in an effort to gauge best practices for adoption here.

In delivering a presentation on ‘Barbados Cassava & Sweet Potato Industry – Consumption, Production, Trade, Opportunities & Challenges’, Chief Agricultural Officer , Barton Clarke , estimated the current level of local cassava production at about $1 million, with the current demand for cassava flour standing at 3, 628. 74 kg (8,000 pounds) per month, while the current supply was “significantly less.”

While there is a definite opportunity, Mr. Clarke cited pests and diseases, land availability, water, harvesting, the food versus feed/ fuel dilemma, and improving the nutritional content of cassava as among the major challenges.

In terms of land, he stressed that with at least 1,700 hectares needed to produce cassava, the question was where it would come from, and whether one would replace sugar cane with cassava production or utilise idle lands.

“Is it more prudent to grow cassava and feed it to the chickens or eat it directly? Those are the questions we will have to ask ourselves,” he added.

Mr. Clarke listed a tissue culture lab, the Government’s Analytical Lab, a designated officer, researchers, extension officers, land and equipment as among the resources which would be made available by Government to prospective farmers. He said commitment, markets for production, land, management skills, financing, feed manufacturing and research capability could be possible contributions from the private sector.

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