Is the Ministry of Agriculture adequate?

We would like to commend the Minister on sprucing up the entrance to the Ministry of Agriculture’s offices at Graeme Hall by replacing the well worn signage. At least the new signs inform the public that there is in fact a Ministry of Agriculture and also project a positive image, but unfortunately image is not enough. It must be supported by effective action in the interest of the agricultural industry and of the country in general.

This raises the question: “Is the Ministry of Agriculture in its present form adequate at this time of global food shortages, when in spite of over $44 million of taxpayers’ money being pumped into it each year, the annual food import bill still stands at over $500 million?” Of course we realize that the Ministry has a regulatory function and also a direction and policy formulation function which are necessary and must be paid for, but there is also a research and development component, the purpose of which is to conduct field, laboratory and literature research on production of designated priority crop and livestock groupings as well as to extend the results of such research to farmers.

What returns have these tax dollars invested in the Ministry’s R&D produced?
Shouldn’t the Ministry personnel be held accountable for the more than $9 million dollars which are spent every year on research and development programmes, including information and extension services? If we scrutinize what the Ministry of Agriculture has contributed to our knowledge base in agricultural research and development in the last decade, we will find that it is negligible. Why is this allowed to continue year after year? Are these officers laws unto themselves?

It seems that the technocrats are forever traveling the world to get a first hand look at agricultural production practices, supposedly to use the knowledge to upgrade farming skills in the region. But can anyone document any tangible help to farmers arising from these visits? Far from seeing any improvement in our farming practices, we continue to see increased support of farmers worldwide, while our farmers grapple with the problems of praedial larceny, lack of adequate inputs and competition from imports.

In 1982 CARDI did a study on milk production in Barbados which revealed that the average quantity of milk produced by the national herd and shipped to the Pine Hill dairy was 6100lbs per cow per lactation year. After significant forage research and development work by CARDI , the average increased by 39% to 8500 lbs in 1995. Since then there has been little or no input on pasture research and development, although dairy farmers have taken a number of initiatives on their own to try to improve the industry.

After putting forward at least 8 issues to the Ministry of Agriculture over five years ago, the dairy farmers have reported positive action on some of these issues within the last few months. We trust that this trend will continue and that officers will not be allowed to drag their feet on important issues and frustrate the efforts of farmers.
Similarly, with sugarcane, which is the crop occupying the largest acreage in the country, apart from the varietal work done by AVRTU, what research and development work is being done to try to reduce the cost of production?

Local farmers continue to be chastised by technocrats and politicians for being inefficient and unproductive, but it is noteworthy that the stations which are under the control of these same technocrats are in a state of disrepair. In our opinion, the Ministry’s stations should be in pristine condition and should represent models which the farming community can pattern their farms after.

We wonder if our Minister has had the opportunity to visit the station at Haggatts since his appointment. If he has not, we at BSTA recommend that he takes a drive after church one Sunday and sees for himself the disgusting state the Ministry’s premier fruit research and development station is in. Many of the mango trees are overgrown with vines, and several of the star fruit trees have died and have not been removed and replaced. The cherry orchard is a disgrace and is in desperate need of cleaning up and replanting. How can the Ministry’s technocrats criticize farmers when the stations under their management are in such an appalling state?

Minister, don’t you think it is time for you to take some decisive action and restructure your ministry so that the stated objectives will be achieved and that the officers will be held accountable? In this process, would it not make sense to set up an R&D committee comprising mostly good farmers who will help you discern between fact and fiction? How long will your staff be allowed to continue taking monthly salaries while not producing usable information for our farmers?

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