??Attendees at the Ministry of Agriculture Town Hall Meeting on Sunday at the Princess Margaret Secondary School. (FP)

Agriculturalists, farmers, agronomists, members of the public and government have been ???putting their heads together’ in an effort to find ways to move the local agricultural sector forward.

They were taking part in the Ministry of Agriculture’s second town hall meeting at the Valley Resource Centre, The Valley, St. George.

Entitled A National Dialogue on Food and Agriculture, the three-hour session saw Ministry representatives soliciting the views of stakeholders and members of the public on critical issues impacting the sector. The ideas and solutions will form the basis of a proposed White Paper on Agriculture.

Among the areas discussed were the impact of praedial larceny on the farming community; the introduction of technology such as a market information system; the dire need to cut food imports, particularly for those items which can be grown or produced

here; the importance of buying ???Bajan’; and poor communication between members of the agricultural chain, that is, from the farmers to the consumers.

Charles Herbert of Redland Plantation stressed that it was pointless to ask framers to produce more when imports continued to flood the market in increasing numbers.

"It took me three months to sell a field of carrots. Why? Because container loads of carrots continue to come into Barbados every week and we cannot sell our production. I have cut back my lettuce production by one third because I cannot sell it. The supermarkets are flooded with Iceberg and Romaine lettuce," he pointed out.

Mr. Hebert added that unless Barbadians understood the importance of buying local and farmers were offered some level of support and protection, then the sector will remain stagnant.

"We have a whole generation of Barbadians who know only how to eat plums, grapes and apples. Most of them have never tasted a mango and never will because it is far easier for sellers to import than to buy local and if you don’t protect us, agriculture will never grow," he maintained.

Steven Elcock of the Valley Plantation added his voice to the issue of local production and imports, suggesting a strategic partnership with government could help provide a steady market for local goods.

"If government is saying they really want to help production, they should ???baby’ certain crops, in other words, if a farmer is growing carrots all year round, then government, which controls the importation licences of products, should take these items from us and supply the community and nation with them. The government should then import what they know will be lacking at certain times of the year," he said.

With regard to land use, Michael Rudder proposed what he termed "a Certificate of Stewardship" where landowners would lease their lots to persons who would have responsibility for improving the quality of the land.

"You could lease the land for a certain amount of time but your job is to maintain it and improve the quality of it…The certificate would not only be about what you grow, but paying attention to developing and improving the soil on which you grow," he said.

Livestock Farmer, Sylvan Payne, expressed concern about the length of time it took to process incentives for farmers.

"The machinery of the government is hindering poor farmers like me from getting the help we need…It takes too long to process and when you want money in farming to develop, you have to get it [urgently]. If you don’t have money to buy the feed, you can’t live and feed is expensive. I would like to see something [done] about that," he remarked.

The consensus among the audience was that the agricultural sector could not continue to operate in its present state and an urgent rethink was needed to bring it in line with modern day demands.

The final town hall meeting will be held next Monday, June 18, at the Alexandra School, Speighstown, St. Peter, starting at 7:00 p.m.


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