(Right to left) Michael King, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Dr.?? David Estwick, Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, Chairman, National Agriculture Commission, Gregg Rawlins, IICA Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Dr. Vincent Little, FAO Regional Policy Advisor, Food & Nutrition Security in the Caribbean, make up the head table??for the??Opening??Ceremony of the National Consultation today at??the Savannah Hotel.??(A.Miller/BGIS)

Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick, is adamant that a concerted effort must be made to diversify the local economy from an overdependence on tourism, international business and financial services, or Barbados will suffer the consequences.

Speaking this morning at the opening ceremony of a National Consultation on a White Paper for Agriculture at the Savannah Hotel, he stressed that a firm and serious decision should be made to actively support the local agricultural sector, to enable it to be a fillip for the local economy .

He cited the lack of a medium-term development plan as one of the issues confronting the sector, noting that if there was no such policy, then it would be impossible to make any long-term plans.

Added to this, Dr. Estwick stressed that the over reliance on the tourism and international business sectors, on the advice of international economic partners, was hindering this country’s ability to effectively mitigate the challenges of the global recession.

"This slow pace of diversifying the Barbados economy is exactly why the external shocks become so debilitating to us because we have no counter," he pointed out.

According to him, the agricultural sector has been caught in the same repetitive cycle since the 1950s and 60s, with no definitive action taken to solve its myriad of challenges.

In a passionate speech to an audience which included members of the public and private sectors, the farming community, civil society and non-governmental organisations, Dr. Estwick said successive governments had refused to place their support behind agriculture, with the sector presently receiving some 1.5 per cent of the national budget.

"Other countries that understand the importance of agricultural diversification and its contribution to economic growth and its linkages have spent six or seven per cent.?? Look at the transformation in Costa Rica. Look at what they did in Brazil and throughout the whole of Africa and we are at 1.5 per cent and decreasing," he observed.

Citing the transformation of the sugar industry to a sugar cane industry as a forward thinking initiative, he suggested that such a move could save this country millions of dollars.

"We never saw that if we went forward and established a cogenerating plant for the production of biomass as we are trying to do now…that we would save 50 million dollars from the importation of diesel. We never saw that the production of a megawatt cogenerating plant at St. Andrews would result in 150, 000 megawatts of electricity being produced in Barbados. So, now you can have 75, 000 households being supplied from the sugar industry," he remarked.

Dr. Estwick said another challenge for the sector was the evolution of the farming community to many small and medium- sized farmers, who were unable to access the requisite capital to assist in the development of a modern agricultural infrastructure.

Participants at the Opening Ceremony of a National Consultation for Agriculture, hold discussions with each other, at the Savannah Hotel, today. (A.Miller/BGIS)

"We have not made any of the adjustments to compensate for that. They have done it in Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad. Even the response to the economic crisis that is on; what was their response? To go out there and set up a special financing mechanism exclusively to drive agriculture and manufacturing domestically. What did we do? Nothing!"

The Agriculture Minister told the gathering that his Ministry would be" walking the walk" by ensuring that more Barbadians have the opportunity to grow their own food and make a contribution to the local economy.

"We want to set up with half acre greenhouses to two acre greenhouses at Graeme Hall and lease them out to poor people to grow some food. That project is under way because I believe very strongly that enough talking has occurred", Dr. Estwick said.


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