The Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) is taking Government to task for not putting enough measures in place to foster increased food production in Barbados.
On Monday during the launch of the Capacity Building in Papaya Production at the Ministry of Agriculture headquarters, Graeme Hall, Christ Church, chief executive officer of the BAS James Paul said he was concerned that the ministry was hosting a number of talkshops that may not lead to improved yields. He was also worried about the lands being taken out of agricultural production for “foolishness”.
“We talk about the 25 by 25 initiative (CARICOM’s goal to reduce food imports by 25 per cent by 2025). We like to come up with these phrases in the agriculture sector because sometimes it seems that when we talk about growth that is what we mean. Every five or few years or so we come up with a buzzword that says that is something new, but it is distracting,” he said.
“What we really need to see in the sector is real growth, real production. We need to stop this thinking that every time we hold a workshop that automatically things will happen.
“A lot of these things will not mean anything, if at the end of the day you are not producing anything. Sometimes we bring together people in a beautiful building . . . but at the end of the day, what targets are we setting for the sector?”
Paul said that farmers were on the ground and experiencing real challenges and in many instances they just needed access to resources to combat the problems and the ministry should focus on empowering them.
“Sometimes the real issue is that we do not seek to understand what the issues are that farmers are having and how we bring resources to bear, not on the things that we imagine that they do but really, on the issues farmers are having.
“Too often . . . we have situations where people get up with some idea, it has no relation to whatever the sector is experiencing at the time, but somehow we don’t bring the resources to bear to address the real issues that farmers might be having that might just need a bit of tweaking . . .”
Paul added that it was time for the ministry to set production targets and establish objectives for what it wanted to achieve.
“We also have to translate it in terms of acreage because at the same time when we talk about production, what acreage are we talking about . . . If we have ten acres today, how do we get it up to 20, 30, 40 acres?
“It is inexcusable that when you walk around Barbados you see the amount of land that is being taken out of agriculture for foolishness . . . when we should be actually using that as a means of pushing production. . .”
The BAS head added that there also needed to be a strong marketing campaign, involving supermarkets and other stakeholders to prompt consumers to buy local food.
He said that one should not assume that because something was grown locally, that consumers would gravitate towards it as the strong North American media influences entice buyers to the point where locals believed imported food was superior to local food.
During the event, Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir said that his ministry was also looking to train 100 field officers to gather critical information from farmers so the ministry would have an exact idea of what is being planted across the island, when and where and the amount of acreage in production.
Meanwhile, acting Chief Agriculture Officer Michael James said that papaya, commonly called pawpaw, was a fruit in high demand locally and internationally but local production continued to be significantly impacted by the papaya bunchy top disease.
He said that years ago Barbados was self-sufficient in papaya but in recent times the fruit was in decline.
Economist Damian Coppin said Barbados produced an average of 156 755 kilogrammes of papaya annually, which represented 66 per cent of what was consumed locally .
He said the other 34 per cent, or 79 586 kilogrammes, was imported mostly from Trinidad.
Coppin added that if Barbados ramped up production it would be able to satisfy the needs of the domestic market and could supply papayas to the international market as well.
He said the United States imported the most papaya in the world and as a neighbouring hemispheric state, Barbados could easily tap into this market.
The ministry’s papaya initiative involves training workshops for farmers and the creation of a papaya production booklet, in which farmers and other interested persons could learn best practices and how to cope with the incurable disease, which causes the leaves at the top of the tree to molt and then affects the other leaves.