Agricultural Consultations: Much Ado… and then Nothing

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 […]

By Dr. Frances Chandler

June 25, 2012

Sugar Cane HarvestersApologies 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:

  1. In 2006: A pilot project at Home Agricultural Station as  a site for research, production and training in agricultural practices –  never came to pass.
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. $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
  6. 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
  7. $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
  8. 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.
  9. The law relating to praedial larceny will be amended to make it easier to obtain conviction –  no progress
  10. 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.

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.