We know that we cannot grow all the food we need, but despite what the armchair philosophers who regularly pontificate on the radio call-in programmes claim, local production, if well organized, can have a significant positive impact on the food import bill. Of course, first and foremost, there must be a serious effort made to curb crop theft and stray dogs and other animals in order to make investment in agriculture more attractive.
To begin with, we import product which we do not need, supposedly to satisfy our increasingly sophisticated tastes. Earlier this year, the Minister of Agriculture reportedly appealed to Barbadians to curb their foreign tastes and cautionedÂ themÂ that their continuing taste for foreign products will have a long term effect on the Barbados’ economy.
The armchair experts claim that we can import anything we grow here more cheaply, so why try to improve self sufficiency. What a shortsighted, simplistic attitude! As Minister Estwick pointed out “Every time government has to pay an import bill with foreign exchange for items that… can be produced in Barbados, it means that if government is not producing that quantity of foreign exchange, it has to borrow. If government has to borrow that foreign exchange, then it has an impact on the fiscal deficit of the countryâ€ . He went on to say that a rise in the fiscal deficit could pose serious problems for the local economy and, by extension, consumers who could be hit hard in their pockets.
Instead of adopting a defeatist attitude, we need to look at each category of import (see table below) toÂ determine the feasibility of growing some of the product which is being imported as well as substituting some similar product which is easily produced locally.
|Meat and Edible Offal
|Fish, Crustac., Molluscs etc.
|Dairy Produce; Birds’ eggs etc.
|Prods. Of Animal Origin N.E.S.
|Edible Veg.; Roots and Tubers
|Edible Fruit/Nuts; Citrus Peel
|Coffee,Tea, Mate & Spices
|Prods From Milling; Malt; Starches; Inulin
|Oil Seeds Etc;Misc. Grains;Indus. Plants
|Lac;Gums, Resins and Oth. Veg. Saps/Extract
|Veg. Plaiting Mat.; Veg. Prods. N.E.S.
|Animal/Veg. Fats/Oils/Waxes; Prep. Fats
|Preps. Of Meat/Fish/Crustac.; Molluscs
|Sugars And Sugar Confectionery
|Cocoa And Cocoa Preparations
|Preps. Of Cereals Etc; Pastrycooks’ Prod.
|Preps. Of Veg./Fruits/Nuts etc.
|Miscellaneous Edible Preparations
If we start by looking Â at the meat category, in 2010 we imported $16.9 M in beef products, $12.7M in pork products, $15.2M in lamb, and Â $3.9M in poultry products.
We continually say we do not have enough land area to produce beef, yet thousands of acres are lying idle under bush. There is also the possibility of feedlot production. What happened to all the research done on silage production, pasture improvement, sorghum production and so on which was done in the 1970s and 80s? What happened to all the knowledge gained from foreign experts on ageing and cutting meats?
We have made some progress with pork, and visitors often comment on the high quality of our pork products . But we need to do more. Also, if we stopped importing pig trotters and edible offal in brine, we would reduce the bill by about $1M and maybe reduce the incidence of heart disease.
We continue to boast that Blackbelly lamb is the best in the world , but we seem more interested in protecting the breed than doing anything meaningful with it. We need to improve our pastures and our production conditions if we are to produce lamb at a reasonable price.
Poultry appears to be one of our more successful livestock industries, and this is borne out in the import figures. The majority of poultry imports are turkey wings, necks and backs which are needed for the lower income consumers.
During the coming weeks I will look at each food category to try to determine what we can achieve locally to reduce the import bill.