Image: Ministry of Agriculture
Barbadian farmers have been cashing in on the many incentives available through the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agricultural Incentives Programme, with more than $945,000 being paid out in rebates in the last financial year, and $885,000 disbursed so far for this financial year, which ends next March.
Government’s Agricultural Services Unit has processed and approved approximately 285 farmers’ claims since the start of this financial year in April, while officials gave the nod to some 403 in the previous year.
“The programme is getting better. We are getting more compliance from farmers. More people are coming in. I am not overly concerned with figures, but about farmers coming forward and accessing what they need,” observed Senior Agricultural Officer with that Unit, Dr. Dennis Blackman.
“In the last financial year, we received over 400 applicants, this (financial) year it looks as if we are going to get in that region. It makes us feel good to know that farmers are still responding quite well. Of course, we are visiting them to ensure that they are bona fide farmers. We have also seen an increase in registrants. So, overall there has been growth in terms of incentive applications and farmer registration,” he noted.
Of the 20 grants and rebates available, the Ministry official noted that land cultivation and irrigation incentives were the ones most sought after by farmers. During the last financial year, a total of 160, or over a quarter of the applications received were for land cultivation, while 85 were for irrigation; with over $50,000 and $174,000 being disbursed for these two categories respectively.
“Land cultivation is far and away the most popular rebate. Actually, it accounts for one of the oldest rebates since that one would have started in the 1960s and it still is the most popular one today,” he indicated.
Rebates for spraying equipment, livestock, cotton and orchard development, and farm security were the next most popular categories in the last financial year. Rebates for new crop technology, however, specifically with regard to the use of greenhouses and hydroponics amassed the largest payout of just over $365,000.
The second largest disbursement of over $170,000 was for irrigation services.
In addition to the popular rebates, Dr. Blackman said new incentives are often brought on stream to address specific situations. He stressed that farmers are also free to suggest to the ministry any incentives which they believe would be beneficial to them.
“Every year we look at the incentive package and we try to improve the overall scheme by offering those which are currently needed – as we did with the well-cleaning. We noticed, for example, that there was a rodent problem, and it is really costly for large operations like plantations to manage… so, that particular incentive was introduced,” Dr. Blackman explained.
“Not every incentive is developed by officers from the Ministry; persons in the community recommend incentives and sometime suggest adjustments. We look at them; if they make sense we will make the adjustment in the appropriate cases.”
In addition to rebates, for which farmers must submit verifiable receipts, the Agricultural Services spokesman said grants were also offered on an annual basis in an attempt to promote interest in activities “which the Ministry is trying to encourage”.
Elucidating that farmers’ organisations and related agencies were also free to apply for grants to assist with specific projects, Dr. Blackman said three such grants totalling $51,950.90 were also approved in the last financial year.
“In this case, we like to see a project proposal being submitted and generally once the Ministry is happy that the activity is within our framework and something which will benefit farmers and farming, it is supported,” he explained.
Duty-free concessions on vehicles as well as special inputs for farmers and farming organisations are also among the incentives available. Dr. Blackman noted that special inputs included fans, generators and other types of equipment which could be used privately, but must be shown to be used for agricultural purposes.
With a current processing period of between two to four weeks, the Agricultural Services head said his department was working assiduously to speed up the overall process and make it more user-friendly.
“Over the past few years, we have tried to pay these rebates in a timely fashion. Our unit likes to put money back in the pockets of farmers. We’ve seen other ways in which we can make the system even faster, so this is what we are going to try to do in coming months.
Full of praise for the incentive programme, Dr. Blackman said in addition to helping to create liquidity for farmers, it also allowed the Ministry to have some input into the development of farming.
“The Ministry benefits because we get a chance to visit farms and gain some insight into the direction that farmers are moving. We are also able to target the type of development we want by offering incentives for specific areas. So it does give the Ministry a measure of control and it has helped both the farmer and the Ministry to improve desirable farming practices in Barbados,” he concluded.
He cited as an example the widespread shift to drip irrigation, as opposed to overhead sprinklers, after the introduction of rebates for the former a few years ago.
“Once we did this (introduced rebate), farmers started using drip irrigation systems and realised the enormous savings in terms of money and water. So, if we look around Barbados today we hardly see overhead sprinkler systems anymore. We have done this for several other areas and it has redounded to the benefit of farmers as well as the Ministry because agricultural best practices have improved.”
Making it clear that the various concessions, rebates, grants and incentives were available to all bona fide farmers, Dr. Blackman stressed that all that was needed was for them to register with the Ministry, and be furnished with their Farmer Identification cards. He underlined that greater collaboration between farmers and the Ministry was necessary for the further development of this vital sector.
“We would want to have a greater spirit of cooperation between us and farmers. We have seen improvements over the past few years where farmers feel more comfortable coming in and talking to us. We would want to have even more dialogue with them, but I think that is probably something we will have to initiate from our end,” he observed.