The Importance of Information in Decision Making

Information is important to all aspects of life. With the new technologies now available, dissemination of information in a user-friendly way has been greatly facilitated. In spite of this, the general public including the agricultural community, often lack the information they need to make sensible decisions.

In this year’s Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals, mention was made of the increase in acreage which the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) would be putting into food crops in order to increase food security in Barbados. That is a laudable objective, but to date, as far as we are aware, the rest of the farming community, both large and small farmers, have not been informed of the details of these plans, so that they can plan their production accordingly. Agricultural professionals have warned that if this increase is not planned, it could spell disaster for small farmers in particular, and the industry in general.

BAMC is a government owned company. Private sector farmers are concerned that if BAMC’s production is not planned, gluts may result. While resulting losses by BAMC can be underwritten by government, there is no such facility for private sector farmers,
and their businesses could be severely undermined. Furthermore, the source of government support for BAMC is private sector taxation, therefore farmers would in effect be contributing to their own demise.

There is therefore a need for good planning and decision making based on reliable production and marketing information. We need to know what the demand is for each item for the fresh produce market , for raw materials for agro-processing and for export. Then the acreage required to produce this demand can be calculated and allocated.

BADMC resuscitated its production and marketing information system some months ago. It consisted of an internet based production information system detailing acreages of crops produced by the 500 or so farmers under its Rural Development Scheme and a weekly newspaper publication of wholesale and retail prices for fresh produce. The weekly publication, which was supported initially by the private sector, has since ceased, perhaps due to a lack of funding. Although this initiative is commendable, it would have to target all farmers if it is to be useful.

More recently, the Ministry of Agriculture has taken the initiative to collect production information from farmers by parish. It is hoped that the information from both these initiatives can be merged to produce a more comprehensive database which would assist all farmers in their decision making and redound to the benefit of the nation as a whole.

The Barbados Statistical Department has done a good job over the years of providing import and re-export information . It is understood that this system is to be upgraded, an initiative which we are sure will be welcomed by all sectors.

Communication of information relating to regional and international issues which affect Barbadians is vital. A few years ago when complaints were made that there was no information on how the CSME would affect the everyday life of Barbadians, the Government Information Service developed short information …which were aired on television, in language which the layman could understand.

The same is required with the European Partnership Agreement. These negotiations have been going on for years , but the talk given by Minister Sinckler at a Barbados Workers’ Union event which was later aired on television two Sunday nights ago was probably the first such “down to earth” explanation provided to the public. Even then.we feel that the information provided should go further, with bullet statements on the implications for sugar, cotton, dairy products, fish etc as far as the agricultural sector goes, as well as other important goods and services from other sectors. The lack of clearly articulated information would lead one to think that maybe those who are negotiating do not fully understand it themselves.

The Press has made some attempt recently to provide the views of such people as Sir Shridath Ramphal, Professor Norman Girvan (Professorial Research Fellow at the UWI’s Institute of International Relations) and Dr Anthony Peter Gonzales (consultant) , but these are generally in “high flown” language which would no doubt go over the heads of the layman.

There has also been a series of articles over the last few weeks in the Sunday Sun by Harold Beckles which have tended to be general, rather than explaining details. However, we certainly agree with the quotes in last Sunday’s article from Dr Keith Nurse Director of the Sir Shridath Ramphal Centre, that “we are now called upon to facilitate our entrepreneurs, and our enterprises and our sectors in a way we’ve never done before…..” and “if we want to achieve in this new global context we need a different scale of institutional facilitation that is both governmental and non-governmental.”

We at BSTA look forward to the implementation of the “Quick Response Seed and Venture Capital Fund” proposed in this year’s Budgetary proposals as one such example of facilitation which will assist Barbadians to become competitive in the global economy.

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