Re-engineering the agricultural industry

When one hears supposedly well educated people raising questions like “Agriculture is dead isn’t it?”, it makes one realize that more effective communication with the public is necessary if the local agricultural industry is to be treated with the respect that it deserves. It is a major contributor to the local economy from the point of view of use of our precious natural resource “arable land”, food security, foreign exchange savings and earnings, as well as protection of the environment.

“That, agricultural skill remaining the same, additional labour employed on the land within a given district produces a less proportionate return.”
– Nassau William Senior

In the recent past we have pointed out a number of issues which need to be addressed in the industry. We now turn our attention to highlighting the successes which have been achieved in spite of the constraints which exist.

As we are all aware, for centuries, agriculture has played a dominant role in the economic development of Barbados. However it is clear that a constantly changing global environment is having a severe impact on the industry. The framework governing trade between the Caribbean and Europe, production inefficiencies, lack of adequate land use policies, and lack of profitability have resulted in a declining agricultural, and in particular, sugar, industry.

On the other hand, it is clear that globalisation and the information age, as characterised by the information technology and telecommunications revolutions, could create opportunities through the impact of high technologies on the existing areas of economic development, including agriculture.

Over the years, there have been a number of Think Tanks and studies done on various aspects of the agricultural industry, and a number of ideas put forward for change, but this has not been followed up by the preparation of comprehensive Business Plans to be implemented for the restructuring of the industry.

As a result, the Barbados Society for Technologists in Agriculture, at their Annual Technical Conference in 2006 , decided to bring together industry stakeholders to focus on the re-engineering of the industry, and rationalizating the organizations involved in agriculture, in an effort to facilitate the implementation of business plans to expedite trade in agricultural products and services.

It was recognized that there is a need to increase levels of productivity and to examine the potential for developing a vertically integrated industry with linkages to other industries, if agriculture is to increase its contribution to the economy within the context of globalisation and trade liberalisation.

The vital importance of finding timely solutions to the problems facing the industry was demonstrated by the impressive turnout of about 50 persons representing more than 25 organizations, including the Ministry of Agriculture.

It was agreed that the goal to which we must aspire is increased trade in agricultural products and services which would in turn, contribute to the reduction of the economic divide between Barbados and the OECD countries. Barbados has a GDP per capita of less than US$10,000 and an average Economic Growth rate around 3% per annum compared to the OECD which has an average GDP per capita of more than US$30,000.

In order to achieve this goal, agricultural business opportunities would have to be identified, the missing links which would constrain the achievement of this objective would have to be addressed, and the roles of the various agricultural organisations would have to be rationalised.

The areas which were considered were: CROPS (Fresh or Processed) including ornamentals, fruits, herbs and spices, organic products, aloe vera, cotton, sugar cane, vegetables and root crops; LIVESTOCK (Fresh or Processed) including eggs and poultry, pork, dairy, beef, lamb and chevon; SCOTLAND DISTRICT including forestry and craft, sericulture ,vermiculture, composting, aquaculture and exotic aquarium fish as well as recreation, hospitality and eco tourism linkages; and FISHERIES (Fresh and Processed) including in-shore, off-shore and deep-sea.

Within each of these sectors there are already many success stories of pro-active entrepreneurs, in both the production and processing areas of the industry, who are already making a positive impact by adopting new technologies. In future columns we will be describing these successes as well as identifying the missing links which need to be addressed if this success is to be sustained and extended.

We trust that at the end of the series of articles on success stories, that a convincing case can be made that agriculture is indeed alive and we should resist the growing temptation to irretrievably convert good arable land for other purposes for immediate rather than strategic long term gains.

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