Despite an overall reduction in the level of farming, compared with that of the 1980s, and an obviously aging farming population, the state of the local agricultural sector appears to be “in good stead”.

These were some of the preliminary findings of the recently concluded National Agricultural Survey carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development with technical assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Speaking at a workshop to review the preliminary findings of the survey, David Marshall, FAO Technical Officer, said preliminary results indicated that while there had been a decline in sugar cane production as well as cotton production and in some root crops, there had been a marked increase in the cultivation of sweet peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and herbs.

“The cultivation of spices, parsley and chives has expanded significantly,” he noted, adding that this group of herbs was virtually non-existent in 1989 when the last Agricultural Census was carried out. Mr. Marshall added that with close to half million fruit trees on the island, many Barbadians “now recognised the need to squeeze in a few fruit trees, which is really important for food security”. Bananas, followed by figs, coconuts, plantains, mangoes and citrus trees, represented the highest numbers of fruit trees found.

With evidence of wide-usage of fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation techniques by farmers, Mr. Marshall said this should increase the expected yield per acre and lead to a more efficient agricultural sector.

Additionally, he noted that there had been a “not too dramatic” decline in the number of farms over the past 18 years, with some 13,406 being recorded in 2006, compared with just over 17,000 in the 1989 census.

In terms of the profile of farmers,  the Rome-based consultant noted that, in keeping with the pattern of the 1980s, the survey revealed an aging population of farmers with the over 65 age-group representing the largest single group. With there being fewer young farmers, he said that the under 25 age group represented the smallest group, and the 25 to 35 age- group was also small. According to him, there was some stability in the 45 to 65 group.

In commenting on the survey, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Erskine Griffith, said the results were no surprise, and confirmed that persons were doing a lot more farming than was recognised.  Noting that there had been some concerns raised in the past about the reliability of the statistical data generated by the Ministry in the past, Minister Griffith said the overall aim of the Agricultural Statistics and Farm Management Project was to improve the existing statistical system.

“Therefore, at the end of this project, I anticipate a more modern, upgraded statistical system capable of addressing most of the needs of the Ministry and the entire agricultural community,” he said.

Senior Policy Officer with the FAO, Michael Griffin, told participants that the FAO’s financial input in the project was valued at US$240,000. He noted that the FAO was also collaborating with Government on the establishment of the National Dairy Board, the Sustainable Development Bill and World Food Day Celebrations.

A total of 2, 752 farms were covered in most of the enumeration districts across the island. It included all small farmers within the 13 special irrigation districts, a sample of enumeration districts in the Scotland District as well as a sample in the urban corridor from the north to the south eastern section, which houses most business establishments as well as hotels. The sample size was expanded to national levels.

The final results of the survey are expected to be compiled within coming months.

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