The animal shows are quite popular at Agrofest. (Photo compliments the Barbados Agricultural Society)

Some nine years ago agricultural officials were faced with a dilemma – How could they get Barbadians excited about and interested in the local sector while encouraging more young persons to get involved?

In an effort to deal with this challenge, they drew on inspiration from the past – the Annual Agricultural Exhibition – which in its heyday drew crowds of Barbadians to Queen’s Park.

Reintroduced by the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) in 2005, the event, now dubbed Agrofest, has been a hit with patrons, with thousands entering the Park gates every year.

Coordinator, Thedore Fraser, explained that when the BAS and its stakeholders conceived Agrofest, they sought to recapture some of the magic and excitement of the Annual Agricultural Exhibition.

"The old exhibition was a big thing back then…I heard older Barbadians talk about it …We are trying to create that same experience again. If you look at our Plantation Breakfast on Sundays, all of that is in keeping with what would have happened back then. The livestock shows were always a big part of the event, so we are trying to hold onto those aspects and keep that nostalgia alive," he said.

Agrofest has now blossomed into one of the most popular events on the local calendar. The inaugural event held in January 2005 and the subsequent exhibition in February 2006 attracted over 30,000 patrons, while in the last three years an average of 60, 000 persons have visited the event.??

Exhibitors, realising the opportunities available at the showcase, have also grown over those years, with about 300 of them registering each year.

While pleased with the development of Agrofest, Mr. Fraser stressed that behind the various displays, entertainment and shows, there was a serious message, that is, that the agricultural sector in Barbados is alive and well and it is a viable career choice for any young Barbadian.

"It was felt by a number of the major players in agriculture that there was a need to breathe new life into the sector. It was clear that the interest, especially on the part of the youth, was waning, and the focus on agriculture was not being pushed as much as it could be. So, the idea of reintroducing the exhibition was to show agriculture in a better light and let Barbadians know what is going on," he remarked.

Mr. Fraser added: "Many young Barbadians still had the impression that agriculture was about just the ???fork and hoe’ and was extremely labour intensive. They were not aware of the different types of technologies and areas in the agricultural sector where they could find very good careers."

He noted that Agrofest had evolved over the last nine years as the BAS has sought to continually improve its product and provide an outlet where farmers and industry stakeholders can display their agricultural goods and services.

"We are very pleased with where we are today. There has been great progression in terms of the quality of the show and its infrastructure. We have also made several upgrades in terms of the management of the show and the different activities which we bring to the exhibition. So, we have grown quite nicely and when you take into account that we have expanded to Weymouth ???B’ to create an enlarged children’s area, it shows how we have really developed and people are interested and excited about what the agricultural sector has to offer," Mr. Fraser said.

The BAS official was quick to point out that the success of Agrofest was not based wholly on the numbers who visit Queen’s Park, but by its impact on young Barbadians, who now seem to have a better understanding of, and are showing a heightened interest in agriculture.

Students looking at some of the livestock on display. (Photo compliments the Barbados Agricultural Society)??

"If you look at the response from the schools, you can tell that the message is getting across and they are seeing agriculture as more than the fork and hoe imagery of days gone by. Since we restarted Agrofest, a number of schools have either implemented full agricultural programmes or have started to do agricultural projects. For example, the schools’ garden competition is increasing and improving every year. Some schools have even gone as far as building rabbitries, so we can see that more and more students are getting back into agriculture and learning more about what the sector has to offer."

The Coordinator added that householder involvement in the exhibition had also increased in the last two years. "We started our home garden competition a couple of years ago and it is one of the biggest competitions we have now. People are definitely planting more food at home and this is linked to the goals which we set out for ourselves from the exhibition’s inception," he said.

Mr. Fraser believes that Agrofest can become even better, adding that the Barbados Agricultural Society staff are continually looking at ways to better serve the needs of stakeholders, while ensuring that the agricultural sector remains at the forefront.

"The plan is to keep improving on the quality of the exhibition. We are always looking at areas where we can strengthen because we want to see it grow, and hopefully, we can have a regional exhibition one day. We get good reviews from our exhibitors and vendors. They always say Agrofest is very well managed and we want to continue managing it as professionally as possible. So, wherever we see an area where we can improve, then we will certainly be doing that," the Coordinator said.

While not divulging any details, Mr. Fraser revealed that a few ideas were already on the table for the 10th anniversary of Agrofest, and added that patrons could look forward to an even bigger and better experience in 2014.

This year’s exhibition will be held from Friday, February 22, to Sunday, February 24, in Queen’s Park. The theme will be Renewable Energy: Leading the Charge into the Future.

So, with another bumper crowd expected to head to Queen’s Park this weekend for Agrofest, the Barbados Agricultural Society and its stakeholders will work to ensure that more Barbadians understand the importance of the sector, and that its future is secure.


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