Do you care that in the present environment of trade liberalization, which brings stiff competition from around the world, farmers in this country are denied access to the agricultural chemicals so necessary to their competitiveness?
When the farmer can sell directly to the consumer, it is a more active process. There’s more contact. The consumer can know, who am I buying this from? What’s their name? Do they have a face?
– Jerry Brown
Not only is trade liberalization bringing competition, it has brought a number of other serious problems to Barbadian farmers. Did you know that during the last few years no less than 15 serious new pests have found their way into Barbados, no doubt on imported fresh produce? Yet our farmers are not being allowed access to the newest technologies available to deal with these pest problems. Just as a doctor cannot operate effectively without medication , neither can a farmer operate without the tools of his trade.
Our farmers currently have a limited number of agricultural chemicals available to them. They must make do with older chemicals which have been used so often that pests appear to be becoming resistant to them. To make matters worse, there is talk of banning a number of these, but little attempt is being made to register replacements.
The importation of chemicals is controlled by regulations set out in the Pesticides Control Act (1974) . The Pesticide Control Board, under the chairmanship of the Deputy Chief Agricultural Officer, has been set up to carry out the provisions of the Act, including evaluation of applications and registration of pesticides, and advice on policy and appropriate regulations in relation to pesticide management.
No one can deny that control is necessary to ensure the health and safety of the nation, but what we need is an effective Board- one which meets regularly to review applications and grant registrations where appropriate. What is interesting is that in most cases renewal of licences is handled expeditiously by a Technical Sub-Committee, but meetings of the full Board are rare, and therefore applications for registration of the newer, safer, more effective, environmentally friendly chemicals which are continually coming on to the market receive little or no response. It has been taking one to three years for licences for new chemicals to be granted, and there are currently applications which have been pending since 2005.
We understood recently that the decision whether to continue to allow the importation of a nematicide which is important in the production of peanuts and other crops has been referred to the Prime Minister. We find it strange that the Pesticide Control Board together with the Ministry of Agriculture are not in a position to make this decision which the farmers anxiously await before they purchase peanut seed to plant their crop.
One may say that the Board is being extra cautious in the interest of the nationâ€™s health, but how can this be so when produce is being imported from countries where regulations are much less stringent, where chemicals which are not allowed in Barbados are being used, and most importantly, to our knowledge, without any testing at our ports of entry for pesticide residues? As far as we can understand, the equipment has been in place for about 10 years, yet it is not in operation. This lack of testing is especially worrying in light of the growing number of imported food products which have been withdrawn from the market in recent times because of health issues and is one more reason why we should be buying as much local produce as possible in preference to the imported. Do you care?
Another question which is often asked is whether genetically modified food is being imported into Barbados. Does Barbados have a policy on this? We think it is only fair that a public statement in laymanâ€™s language is made to inform Barbadians on the issue.
Should we not also expect a comment from our government regarding the recent findings of scientists in Trinidad concerning the presence of chemicals (some of which have been banned in Barbados) in Sahara dust?
We can cite one case where a chemical manufacturer has asked for the return of his dossier which has not been acted upon since 2005 when it was submitted, in spite of the fact that the chemical was deemed an excellent fit for Barbados by technical staff of the Ministry of Agriculture. Interestingly, the same chemical has been approved and has been on sale for over a year in Trinidad, a country from which Barbados regularly imports fresh produce. Does anyone care?
The effective and efficient use of pesticides often leads to a lower cost of production. So Barbadian farmers are at a serious disadvantage when they must compete with regional and international farmers who have ready access to the necessary chemicals.
We must stress again, that we are not promoting the uncontrolled use of chemicals, but the need for an efficient, accountable Pesticide Control Board, which meets regularly and communicates effectively with the agricultural community. Then and only then will local farmers have a chance of competing in the global arena.