Becoming More Self Sufficient In Vegetables

Our imports of fresh and frozen vegetables, roots and tubers for 2010 were valued at $24.8M to which can be added $38.9 M in preparations of vegetables, fruit and nuts. I am assuming that this category contains agro processed products derived from vegetables, fruits and nuts. If we break these figures down further, we will […]

By Dr. Frances Chandler

June 29, 2011

Vegetable Production

Our imports of fresh and frozen vegetables, roots and tubers for 2010 were valued at $24.8M to which can be added $38.9 M in preparations of vegetables, fruit and nuts. I am assuming that this category contains agro processed products derived from vegetables, fruits and nuts.

If we break these figures down further, we will find that although there are some of the imported crops which we might find it difficult to grow locally on a commercial scale, e.g garlic, iceberg lettuce, brussels sprouts and snow peas, there are many which we have proved that we can grow successfully and at a competitive price. Therefore, I am asking: In 2010 why did we need to import – $0.5M in tomatoes, $2.3M in onions, $ 0.1M in cauliflower, $3.5M in broccoli, $0.9M in cabbage $0.7M in lettuce (apart from the iceberg which is not well suited to our conditions) $1.3M in carrots, $50,570 in beets, $62,661 in cucumbers, about $50,000 in beans, $139,000 in asparagus, $7,000 in eggplant, $0.5M in celery, $0.3M in sweet peppers, $0.3M in zucchini , $ 0.4M in pumpkins and 0.M in root crops (eddoes, cassava, sweet potato and  yam)?

As far back as 2006, the Government recognized the fact that it was possible to reduce our imports, and in its Economic and Financial Policies presented by the then Minister of Finance in January of that year, a list of 16 agricultural commodities in which Barbados could become self sufficient was noted. Of the vegetable crops, those listed included hot pepper, onion, the cucurbits (cucumber, melon and pumpkin), sweet potato, yam, cassava and eddoes, sweet pepper, fresh herbs, tomato, beans, crucifers (cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli) and okra. Although no mention was made of beet and carrot which are relatively easy crops to produce and romaine lettuce which we know is already being produced locally, I am confident that we can also be self sufficient in these crops.

It is also possible to grow mushrooms locally to replace some, if not all, the imports . We have done it before on several occasions on a pilot basis, but it seems difficult to find someone who will take the plunge and attempt it commercially. We imported 09M kg of white potato valued at $7M in 2010.  In the past, we grew this crop and produced good quality potatoes but yields tended to be a bit low to make the crop viable on a large scale. This is not to say that we should not be researching the crop again since new varieties more suited to our conditions may now be available. We have also produced excellent sweet corn, ( we imported $73,790 in 2010) but the cost of pest control is quite high and therefore it is not a first choice in the import substitution programme. We have also grown excellent quality asparagus on a commercial scale, yet we imported asparagus worth $139,000 in 2010.

Of course agriculture is a high risk business and we will not become self sufficient if we leave it to chance. We need to systematically match the markets with the suppliers, plan the planting programme, issue contracts to farmers, have technical support systems for farmers, and last but not least, have a public/private sector co-ordinating body to oversee the process which must be implemented in a disciplined manner.

Furthermore, based on our experience in recent years with the unpredictability of the weather, we need to encourage more protected agriculture. Farmers should not be totally at the mercy of heavy rains which bring a myriad of diseases and pests. Protected agriculture does not necessarily mean sophisticated green houses with hydroponics, but can mean a simple structure which protects crops from torrential rains and other risks like birds, rodents, wild rabbits and monkeys. Of course these structures are also easier to police than open fields from the point of view of praedial larceny. On the other hand, there are a number of greenhouses already constructed which are not in use or under utilised. These need to be put into full operation to produce crops on a continuous basis.

There are farmers currently producing in greenhouses who are supplying high end hotels and restaurants with the required quality of product, and over the last year we have proved that we can supply product of the required standard to cruise ships.

What we need now, is a larger group of farmers willing to take on the challenge of reducing this import bill systematically by producing in a disciplined manner and according to a carefully detailed plan.

Dr. Frances Chandler

Dr. Chandler Consultant Agronomist, Director Horticultural Business Solutions Inc. has worked at the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute where she was Head of the Barbados Unit from 1991 to 1994. Her major accomplishment here was the development of an onion industry in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. As a Board member of the Barbados Marketing Corporation in the 1980s she co-ordinated the production , packing and shipping of sweet peppers exported to Holland. Dr Chandler established her own company "Horticultural Business Solutions Inc. in 1997 with a view to upgrading the operations of Caribbean private sector companies involved in food production and marketing. Recognising the importance of succession planning in the agricultural industry, Dr Chandler has supervised a School Garden Competition for Super Centre, and at the Governor General's request, has co-ordinated the Governor General's Agricultural Summer Camp for primary school children for the last five years. In 2006 she was appointed as a member of the local Selection Committee for the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence and this year was appointed to the local Selection Committee for the United World College Scholarships. In 2007 Dr Chandler held the post of Vice President of the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture, and in 2008, President. Dr Chandler is part of the Exhibits Committee for Agrofest and the Chief Judge of the Fruit and Vegetable Exhibit. She has authored/co-authored over 50 publications in addition to being the author of the Agro-Doc column which has appeared in the Nation newspaper for the last four years. In 2003 Dr Chandler was appointed by the Governor General as an Independent Senator in the Upper Chamber of the Parliament of Barbados and was reappointed in 2008.

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