2009 in Review

The BSTA celebrated its 70th anniversary this year. During the year the Society addressed a number of issues relevant to the agricultural sector.

At the beginning of 2009, we held our Annual Conference with the theme “Rejuvenating Agriculture- an Initiative of the Youth”. The selection of this theme followed on from a decision taken by the BSTA Council during 2008 to develop a Youth Arm since the youth must be encouraged to have an input into the future of the agricultural industry. Consequently, members of the 4-H movement, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and the Barbados Community College were included in this year’s Conference.

One of our young members has in fact started her own business “Produce Growers Ltd.” where she intends to take agriculture into the twenty first century by applying science rather than guesswork to her production. She is an avid proponent of soil testing which can result in considerable savings on fertilizer and can optimize yields.

BSTA supported Keeley’s attendance at a Water Management course held in Israel. Her exposure to the methodology used by the Israelis as well as their high productivity no doubt whet her appetite for setting up her own farm where she could implement some of what she had observed. We hope that other youngsters will follow her example.

We were concerned that developing land has become a synonym for cutting trees and it does not appear that the current Tree Preservation Act has a big influence. The number of trees that have disappeared within the last 5 to 10 years is significant. The problem is not the cutting of trees, it is not planting new ones. In fact, what we should be considering is planned agroforestry / silviculture which would be sustainable and beneficial both economically and environmentally. Species selection, thinning, and controlled harvesting would have to be carefully planned. Indications are that mauby and bayleaf are two of the agro-forestry species which could be considered, particularly for the Scotland District.

The issue of intra-regional shipping services was addressed. As usual there has been no shortage of plans, but none have come to fruition, and CARICOM has commissioned yet another study on a fast ferry service in the Southern Caribbean for the transportation of passengers and cargo. Furthermore, only a few weeks ago, plans for yet another ferry seem to have gone awry.

Meanwhile, it is pleasing to note that a farmer in Barbados has purchased a boat, and although he is faced with challenges, made a pilot trip to Martinique and attracted some business in fresh produce there. We hope that his problems will be addressed in the new year and the business can develop.

One of the BSTA Council’s main concerns is that agriculture seems to be faced with the same problems as it did sixty five years ago when the Moyne report (suggesting the intensification of agriculture through mixed farming) was published . Agricultural diversification in the Caribbean continues to be studied by agency after agency, at the regional and national levels, but the progress that has been made towards sustainable agriculture and rural life has been disappointing, to say the least. There is no shortage of knowledge of what to do; it is a question of how to do it and indeed the will to do it.

BSTA recommends that a Coordinating Entity be established to facilitate the smooth operation of the agricultural trading system. The role of the private sector is to grow the crop, agro-process and distribute it. The role of the Government through the Ministry of Agriculture is to provide regulatory and service functions in support of the private sector activity. The areas of agribusiness development include: farmer development, public relations, marketing, information systems, research and development, environmental management, investment, governance and legislation.

It is proposed that the Co-ordinating Entity be an independent Charitable Trust established by the Minister with an experienced and respected Chairman from the private sector. The other six Trustees would include public and private representatives selected from the Ministry of Agriculture, producer groups/organisations and other persons chosen to represent knowledge and experience required for successful business functioning.

Minister Benn, in his address to the BSTA Conference at the beginning of 2009, asked for the support of BSTA and reiterated that he hoped that BSTA would play a more important role and would have more interaction with the Ministry of Agriculture. However, to date , we have been unable to obtain any response to the above suggestion for the restructuring of the agricultural sector.

Both the sugar and cotton industries are at the crossroads and we can safely say that our agricultural industry is in deeper crisis now than it has ever been. Although we continue to hear how important the industry is, there continues to be indecision on the part of the powers that be who apparently fail to understand that unless they urgently take positive action on a number of important issues, it will continue its slide into oblivion. We look forward to a more positive approach in the coming year.

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