Minister of the Environment and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe is pictured as he addressed farmers attending a Workshop on How to Build Tropical Row Covers. It was organised by his ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture and held at Fairy Valley, Christ Church today. (U.Gaskin/BGIS)

If Barbados is to cut its high food import bill, then a concerted effort needs to be made to develop an agricultural sector that is sustainable.

This was asserted by Minister of the Environment, Water Resources and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe, as he addressed the opening ceremony of a workshop on How to Build Tropical Row Covers. It was organised in conjunction with his ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture and held today at Fairy Valley, Christ Church.

He said: "If we are serious about reducing the food import bill, we have to become more serious about empowering farmers to be able to get what they need done in a sustainable way and this project [Tropical Row Covers] is about sustainability."

Dr. Lowe added that sustainable land management was part of the country’s pursuit of the green economy which entailed looking for more sustainable ways to develop the country, at the economic, social and at the environmental levels. However, he stressed that this could not be achieved socially unless the country was capable of feeding its people.

And, he pointed out that: "One of the main crises in Caribbean economies is the high import bill on food. And, right now in Barbados, it is up to seven hundred million dollars. Now, if we can produce more food and I know we can with the right environment … what it means is that we can reduce a significant amount of that seven hundred million dollars and put [money] back into the farms and into the hands of the small farmers."

Admitting that although government had put in place a number of incentives to assist farmers, there were still some "hoops that they had to go through to access those resources", Dr. Lowe expressed the hope that the ministries of Agriculture and the Environment would work together "to help make that process a lot easier".

He added that one challenge for farmers was to be able to produce, and to do so effectively and to have access to a guaranteed market. "I think the Ministry of Agriculture has a lot of work to do in that area," he contended.

He told his audience that the project was about how to employ the technologies and different methodologies and doing so sustainably, that "your input cost into agriculture does not outstrip your production".

Dr. Lowe encouraged farmers to try using farming techniques that would not cause too many toxins to be placed in the earth. "It is about how we use pesticides and herbicides and the impact of them on the actual produce," he stated.

Reflecting on farming practices of the 60s, specifically cane hole days, the Environment Minister maintained that they were more effective because there existed "a unique connect between state farming and local farming". Today, he noted, "we have become so sophisticated that we’ve forgotten the simple things that made agriculture work for us".

The workshops on How to Build Tropical Row Covers are designed to show farmers in selected districts how to build the shields which are inexpensive, and how to protect and maximise crop yields.

Other workshops will also be held in Sturges, St. Thomas; Brereton and Sanford, St. Philip; and Greenland, St. Andrew over the next four weeks.


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