Apologies to William Shakespeare for the corruption of the title of his play, but the term used above is typical of what we continue to see in the agricultural sector. I cannot count the studies that have been done on local agriculture and which have achieved nothing. How many National Agricultural Consultations have we had over the years? What has been achieved as a result ? Nothing, as far as I am concerned.
How many interventions have been made in the annual Financial Statements and Budgetary Proposals which have remained just that- proposals. For example:
- In 2006: A pilot project at Home Agricultural Station as a site for research, production and training in agricultural practices – never came to pass.
- BADMC to be the sole importer of the 14 commodities in which the country has a capability to achieve self-sufficiency- not that I think BADMC has the capability to do this , but they should control the import permits for these products based on accurate production information
- In 2007: establishment of a committee to promote the use of Barbadian foods in hotels and guarantee farmers a market for their produce. If it indeed exists, it certainly isn’t working
- A government funded private sector managed state of the art central processing facility to address the challenges of the condiments’ industry – never came to pass
- $20M to be provided to Ministry of Agriculture to upgrade their eight laboratories- has any work started? While this and other aspects of that project continue to creep at a snail’s pace, agro-processors have to refuse export contracts
- Broadening of the Agricultural Payment Guarantee Fund to cover the payments to farmers who take part in the programme to supply hotels and importers – I am not aware that this ever got off the ground
- $3M to BAMC to continue pre- investment activities during the transitional period in which the sugar industry will be restructured. No significant progress has been made and the industry is on its knees
- In 2008: Focus of sugar industry to change from producing sugar for export to producing electricity for local use and molasses for the rum export industry – no progress.
- The law relating to praedial larceny will be amended to make it easier to obtain conviction - no progress
- Renewed efforts to successfully develop through joint venture arrangements with a select number of investors, the Sea Island Cotton industry into a major component of the agricultural, sector- far from developing, the industry has almost disappeared and the cotton variety has been compromised.
We have just completed yet another National Agricultural Consultation. Most industry players consider these sessions a waste of time. Comments were also made regarding the strange format of the Consultation which one would think was intended to identify problems in the sector and discuss possible solutions. However, after starting late, which has become the norm in this part of the world, half the day was taken up with officialdom, hearing what has been heard so many times before from various organisations and we heard of yet another study which is being conducted on agriculture in general and one on the Sea Island Cotton industry.
The result was that the useful part of the programme which was a panel discussion by representatives of some of the sub-sectors of agriculture, and Round Table discussions on various topics, was condensed into a very short period, so that no in-depth discussion was possible.
Added to that is the fact that three Town Hall meetings were held in various parts of the country after the National Consultation had taken place. Isn’t this the wrong way around? Shouldn’t there have been meetings with the various sub-sectors to identify constraints and then use the National Consultation to discuss the constraints and recommend solutions ?
Now we have to produce a white paper, supposedly based on the input from these consultations, which will go before Cabinet and if approved, be the basis of future policy. By that time, I fear we will have no agricultural sector so the policy will not be necessary.
In my opinion, the answer to the majority of the sector’s problems lies in its reorganization so that a private sector led Co-ordinating Entity – the Barbados Agricultural Trading Trust , oversees a number of market driven trading projects where individual markets (cruise ships, hotels/restaurants, agro-processing, supermarkets, vendors, farmers’ markets, institutions) are twinned with suppliers(large and small farmers, householders, BAS and brokers) production is planned for the markets and produce is purchased at arranged prices.
This proposal was put forward to government since 2009, with no response to date. Such procrastination continues to prevent any progress in agriculture and will indeed lead to its demise.