Minister of Agriculture, Senator Haynesley Benn

A clarion call to action has gone out to public and private sector entities to urgently reduce this country’s staggering food import bill.

Minister of Agriculture, Senator Haynesley Benn, made the appeal last weekend while revealing that at the end of 2007, Barbados’ food import bill was some $523,995,835.  In view of this, he said the country had to find ways to increase food production, while paying attention to the issues of food security.

Senator Benn, who was speaking at the Agrofest awards and prize-giving ceremony at Grand Barbados Beach Resort, said that every effort must be made “to ensure that our agricultural sector survives and that our domestic food security is safeguarded”.

He indicated that his Ministry was constantly looking for new ways to overcome the challenges which had confronted the sector, including the use of new technologies and modern approaches to farm management.

“…Barbados is a small vulnerable economy with limited space, within which there is much competition among various interests for the limited resources. It is classified among the top net food importing countries in the world, but, we must not allow this reality to prevent us from attaining the ability to adequately feed ourselves,” Senator Benn stated.

The Agriculture Minister pointed out that at least 16 products, including cucumbers, onions, sweet potatoes and poultry, had been identified in which we could be self sufficient.

“Self sufficiency does not mean that there would be no need for food imports, rather, we would be able to reduce the quantities we bring in, thereby reducing our foreign exchange expenditure,” he stressed.

During the ceremony, Minister Benn also lauded members of the Barbados Agriculture Society (BAS) for executing another “successful Agrofest”.

He told the gathering that his Ministry now had the task of instilling in the minds of young people that agriculture was still a worthwhile pursuit. He lamented that, over the years, many had continually sought “to cast agriculture in a negative light”.

The Senator pinpointed a number of factors that hindered the sector, such as the decline in sugar production combined with a number of unplanned situations like pests and diseases, praedial larceny, competition from housing and other economic activities.

“Over the years, agriculture has lost its prominence, it has plunged from the headlines and editorials, to a position close to the obituary column of this country’s economic future. But, I am confident that with the help of the BAS, the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation, the 4-H movement, the Youth in Agriculture Programme and the farmers of this country, we will see agriculture regain lost grounds and resume the prominent position it once held,” he said.

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