Who would’ve thought that Trinidad, with all its oil and gas resources would ever be in trouble with foreign exchange? But it seems they put all their eggs in the fossil fuel basket and now oil prices have fallen, they’re in trouble.
It’s been said that Barbados has a much more diverse economy than Trinidad. But for how long? We seem to be continually downplaying most sectors and putting our eggs in the tourism basket, instead of moving all our sectors forward together.
Agriculture has certainly suffered at the feet of tourism when the two sectors should be partners in culinary tourism to keep more tourism dollars in Barbados. More players need to “put their money where their mouth is” and support local food. And of course farmers have to understand they must satisfy their customers’ demands. But sometimes these demands are somewhat unreasonable and always end with “at a reasonable price”. But how can you produce at a reasonable price unless your inputs are also at a reasonable price and your labour is productive?
Then there’s competition from imports. We seem to have signed every agreement possible in favour of other countries’ agriculture. Apparently, under these agreements, we can’t protect our own agriculture and we have to be competitive. How come big countries like Canada can protect their agriculture? I’m sure they’ve signed on to these agreements too. But they’re proud to say their produce is homegrown. And if there’s a hint of any negative change in regulations, their farmers don’t” take it sitting down”.
I was really impressed that our Prime Minister considered agriculture important enough to raise it at the recent Heads of Government Conference. Using his usual oratorical skills, he noted that “as leaders for the time being of our respective countries we must accept the solemn responsibility which devolves on our shoulders to raise the gaze of our people to new and hitherto unimagined regional horizons.
Nowhere is this more necessary than in the area of food security. For how much longer are we going to repeat that between the lands of Guyana, of Belize and now also of Suriname, we have the veritable breadbasket of the Caribbean?
Has the time not come, is the hour not upon us when we must, in a structured manner mobilize the idle hands in our region around the idle lands in our region and deal systematically with the food security issues we have been facing. If our palates are being held on mortgage by producers of food outside of this region, are we still justified in thinking ourselves genuinely independent?”
My let down was that Barbados didn’t get a mention. We’re small, but we have idle lands and no shortage of idle hands so can contribute significantly to our own food security if the issues raised earlier are addressed at a high level.
The Prime Minister also noted that “At the best of times our countries have been fiscally fragile and this crisis has rather cruelly exposed how vulnerable we are to exogenous shocks.” One of these shocks looming large is world shortage of food , especially in view of the worsening water situation in California (a major supplier of vegetables and fruit to the Caribbean) and the use of corn in producing ethanol, rather than food. We must prepare ourselves.
Someone commented recently “No-one can convince me that it is cheaper to bring in a foreign made refrigerated alternative across 6,000 or more miles by road and ship and for the wholesale distributors to always disperse them within the stated sell by date. There has to be waste and spoilage.” It’s quite evident there’s waste and spoilage which translates into a waste of foreign exchange. So we have to support the development of local agro-industries.
Recently, we’ve seen a fledgling cheese industry, but it needs support from government and consumers. We can’t have all types of imported cheese entering Barbados free of duty.
In short, we must all get on board if we’re to become more self sustainable. To this end, the Graham Gooding Trust is hosting its annual “Eat Bajan Day” on October 09. The Massy Group of stores is again collaborating by offering an “All Bajan” menu in their delis and Carters General Stores is hosting a sale of fruit trees on Friday 09 and Saturday 10 October. Let’s all support the effort.
Dr. Frances Chandler is a former independent senator E mail: fchandler @caribsurf.com