Tag Archives: Food Security

Why Buy Local

The argument has been made that we should give up farming in Barbados, our cost of production is too high and we can get food cheaper elsewhere. Here I’m going to give you a few reasons why you should support Bajan farmers and buy local.

Food security – The global population is growing and the impact of climate change  will make farming increasingly challenging in many areas. Local farming provides a vital buffer against sudden changes in supply.  Additionally, maintaining an industry with a core of workers and equipment with the know-how and capabilities to expand the industry  is a vital hedge against the very likely possibility that global food scarcity will become a larger issue.

Health – Locally produced foods are generally whole-food, food which hasn’t been processed or only minimally processed. High consumption of processed food is being linking to a wide variety of medical conditions.  When eating local whole foods you are consuming the freshest, most health food you can.

Safety – With many of the food contamination stories in the news, knowing who your food producer is, and the standards they are required to meet, gives confidence about the quality of the food you are buying for your family.

In order for an industry to maintain viability it must also maintain a certain size.  It needs to be big enough for someone to be willing to import tractors and fertilizer, it needs to be big enough that it is worth someone’s time to learn how to repair tractors and other pieces of farm equipment. As the industry decreases in size, the shared overhead costs become more burdensome, decreasing the viability of the industry. Supporting the local agricultural sector through consumption and use of local produce is essential for its continued survival and flourishing.

Agri-Notes – Food Security

Recent experiences following hurricanes in the USA and Caribbean, where some persons didn’t have access to food for two or more days, have highlighted the importance of “food security”. This is further bolstered by the ever increasing world population that is rapidly approaching 8 billion, a whopping 11% of whom, according to the FAO, are already experiencing some degree of hunger.

Any food  policy must consider stability or resilience to future disruption or unavailability of critical food supply due to various threats or risk factors including  lack of foreign exchange, droughts, floods , shipping disruptions, fuel shortages, economic instability, and wars. Continue reading

Agri-Notes – Global Warming and its effect on food production

Global warming is a real phenomenon. We’re already experiencing its effects in terms of climate extremes resulting in drought , flooding and severe hurricanes. A  warmer world will also affect food production, in terms of quality and quantity, in several ways:

  • reduced seed germination under high soil temperatures, resulting in sparse crops stands
  • negative effect on photosynthesis, ultimately leading to reduced growth and lower crop yields  
  • reduced pollen viability which then becomes a major limiting factor for fruit set
  • delayed floral formation  resulting in smaller fruits
  • increased damage to crops from bacteria, fungi, and insect pests
  • Increased weed competition for moisture, nutrients, and light since weeds are better adapted to drought conditions than crops. In addition, herbicidal controls are less effective under hot and dry conditions.

Continue reading

Agri-Notes – The Importance of Agriculture


The Importance of Agriculture

The agricultural sector in Barbados doesn’t get the respect it deserves. But it’s been known for a long time that a dollar spent in agriculture is recycled, on average, more than six times in the economy which is more than a dollar spent in any other economic sector.

The reason for this is that other sectors are also dependent on agriculture.  Too often agricultural discussions focus narrowly on the “on-farm” or production aspects but the agricultural sector also involves:

  1. Input supply: management, labour (skilled and unskilled), equipment, and equipment repairs, planting material, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides et al;
  2. Postharvest: Handling, storage, transport and distribution, processing, marketing, and sales.

Continue reading

Growing Energy

Importing fuel and food are two major drains on foreign exchange reserves for Barbados.

If only there was a way to support local food production and  reduce our fuel imports.

Fortunately there is! Mr. Richard Archer of Armag Farms, gave a presentation, at the Annual technical conference of the BSTA,  on using high fibre cane and king grass to produce  bioenergy.

By using high fiber cane  and king grass it is possible to maintain the traditional crop rotation that preserves Barbadian soils for the production of root and vegetable crops.

If you want to know more the presentation is below, or ask a question here or at our facebook group

Our facebook group.




Diversification of the Barbados Agricultural Sector

Mr. Peter Webster kindly presented on the topic of “Diversification” of the Barbadian agricultural sector, with a very informative review of some of what has been done in the past and what is possible for the future.

Below are links to bother the presentation and accompanying notes.
Diversification Presentation
Diversification – notes

Coconut Thinktank

Are you interested in growing coconuts? Whether on a small or commercial scale there several factors which can influence how productive your coconut trees are.

At the recently conclude coconut think tank several presentations were made which covered the general agronomy, pests and diseases, post harvest handling for good water quality, an economic analysis of coconut farming profitability and the wide range of uses that all parts of the coconut can be put to.

Below you will find links to all the presentations made at the think tank.

The BSTA would like to thank the Agricultural Research and Variety Testing Unit at Groves, St. George, for allowing us use of their facility to host the think tank.







Coconut Water Quality




The Wonderful World of Coconut Products


NO FOOD DAY by Peter Webster

October 16, 2011 designated as “World Food day” has come and gone – or has it? For too many of the billion hungry people the world over, most days are “no food day”.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) promoted the theme “Food Prices – From Crisis to Stability” to highlight a worldwide trend that is “hurting the poor consumer, the small producer and agriculture in general” because “food prices which were stable for decades have become increasingly volatile”.  They concluded that “controlling prices was key to the fight against hunger”.

FAO further lamented that “Agriculture cannot respond fast enough with increased food production because of long-term under-investment in research, technology, equipment and infrastructure”.

The statement by the FAO Director General, Dr. Jacques Diouf, leaves several unanswered questions: Why did FAO emphasise the volatility or fluctuation of food prices and not the fact that the prices were higher although fluctuating? How do higher prices hurt producers and agriculture in general?  Why does FAO concern itself with the hungry?  Since when are the interests of food producers the same as those of consumers?  Could the high price of energy be a contributing factor to high food prices? and Why is there under-investment in agriculture?

It is unfortunate that the FAO statement does not distinguish between the food producers and distributors. Promoting more investment in agriculture is like “pushing rope” since it deals with an effect and not the cause! Food producers around the world have repeatedly increased their production when they are adequately rewarded for their investment.  Our experience in Barbados supports this.  When our government in 1971 taxed all of the nasty profits out of our highly efficient sugar industry (over $50 million between 1974 and 1981) the result was dwindling capital investment in the industry with productivity falling by 50% from a high of over ten tonnes of sugar per hectare to the five tonnes per hectare currently being achieved.

Our people supposedly abhor agriculture but several are reputed to be cultivating marijuana in discreet nooks and crannies around the island despite the risk of imprisonment.  Why are they not growing sweet potatoes and yams?  Could it be that cultivation of the latter is not lucrative enough?

We need to stop expecting the food producers to feed the poor and hungry – this is society’s responsibility not the food producers who are trying to earn a living!

I strongly recommend that FAO focus on its mandate to promote food production and leave the job of feeding the hungry to those with that conflicting mandate.  In the process FAO should ensure that OXFAM and other food-aiders feed the hungry with fresh, healthy food from their poor countries like rice, yams, sweet potatoes, vegetables and coconut water instead of over-processed and unhealthy wheat flour and powdered milk.  This would promote food production in the very countries where most of the hungry are located. Unfortunately, such action would put the food-aiders out of work and we cannot have that, can we?

I recall hearing President Bush (the son) admit in the dying days of his Presidency (October, 2008) that the USA had made a mistake in providing food-aid to poor countries.  He concluded that the USA should have helped the countries to produce their own food instead.  At the time I thought “Wow! I wonder how many people have heard and will remember this”.  Obviously not many!

FAO also supports the “elimination of trade-distorting agricultural subsidies in rich countries”.  Rubbish! Agricultural subsidies have been practiced by the rich countries for centuries. It is one of the reasons why they are rich!  Their economies are not bled by having to import billions of $ in foreign food.  Subsidies promote their agricultural industries, maintain their producers’ standard of living and contribute significantly to their economies by providing value added opportunities which amount to more than the value of their agricultural industry.  They also promote their countries’ food security.  Such subsidies only distort trade in agricultural commodities when the surpluses they tend to produce are dumped on the world market at less than their real cost of production.  It is the act of dumping that distorts the trade not the subsidies!

Governments the world over subsidise housing, health, education, transport, and utilities for the poor but are not supposed to subsidise the most basic and important item needed by the poor – food !  Logic seems to be lacking.  Furthermore, if the subsidies are eliminated where would the food-aiders get their cheap food to feed the hungry?  Round and round we go….!

Peter Webster

NB: Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Should We Produce Our Own Food? by Peter Webster

I was amused by the recent comments of a World Bank economist reported in the news on Friday 25, January, 2008 that “It may be better for small states such as the developing countries of the Caribbean to de-emphasise agricultural production, import food and focus their attention on reducing poverty”.  These comments were nothing new as some of our regional economists have been saying the same misguided thing for years, but they reminded me of former USA President Ronald Reagan’s description of economists as “People who see something actually working in reality and still question whether it would work in theory”.

The developed countries of Europe and North America have subsidised their agriculture for over a hundred years.  Such direct subsidies currently amount to the equivalent of almost a trillion United States Dollars annually in the countries of the European Union, and the United States of America is not far behind. At the same time they also provide market protection for their producers. Why?  Subsidies keep their farmers gainfully employed on their land, promote food security, minimize food costs and contribute substantially to their country’s economy which is not drained by the cost of importing all of their food.  Research has also shown that every dollar spent in agriculture is recycled, on average, six times in the economy which is more than that occurring in any other sector.  The high multiplier effect of agriculture in an economy results from the fact that food is a necessity for everybody and agriculture largely involves the rural poor who may be described as the base of the economy. It also results from the value added component of agro-industry that would not exist in the absence of agriculture.

Agricultural production subsidies, especially for local markets, cannot be faulted whether in developed or developing countries.  Similar subsidies are now an accepted norm in many other sectors including education, health, housing, water, et al. Why not agriculture (food production)? The problems come with the surpluses the subsidies tend to produce and the implication that countries producing such surpluses are more efficient producers than anybody else – a myth. However, when these surpluses are dumped on the world market at half of the actual cost of their production, the destructive effect on farmers in countries without such subsidies or market protection is worse than any terrorist bomb.  This helps to explain why there are mountains of food in storage in some countries while millions are starving in others.

The continent of Africa was a net exporter of food up to the time (1960s) that economists started telling the new popular leaders of emerging African Nations the same nonsense quoted in the opening paragraph.  They imported cheap, subsidised food for their masses at the expense of their local farmers who then added to their countries’ problems by vacating their farms and moving to the nearest urban areas in search of jobs.  In so doing, the African countries were drained of scarce foreign exchange – the imported food may be cheap but it still costs foreign exchange – and they were also saddled with the attendant problems of increased rural poverty and servicing the urban spread.  Africa, once a “bread basket” for the world, now has starving millions, imports more than half of its food and is mired in debt and poverty despite a wealth of human and natural resources.  

The exceptions to the foregoing, South Africa and Zimbabwe, support the argument that the African countries’ agricultural decline was a major cause of their economic problems and not just poor leadership and corruption as popularly thought i.e. before Robert Mugabe destroyed his country’s farming community. Please note that the foregoing has been documented by many researchers.

A related issue is that the farm gate price of food is seldom more than 50% of the market price. Handling, transport, packaging, storage, distribution and marketing of food can account for 80% of the market price.  This value added is seldom recognized by commentators discussing food prices when they target production costs.

All of this at a time when the United Nations has been promoting the concept that if you “give a man a fish you may feed him for a day but if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a life time”.  In other words if you “give a man food you may feed him for a day but if you help him to feed himself you feed him for a lifetime”.

When questioned as to “why they think that the developed countries can justify their heavy agricultural subsidies but the developing countries cannot”?  Economists have responded simply that the developed countries can afford it but the developing countries cannot.  There can be no doubt why the developed countries can afford the subsidies while developing countries cannot and are unlikely ever to be able to afford it.  One builds while the other bleeds.

Can developing countries (large or small) afford not to subsidise their own food production?  The answer lies in how we classify the sector.  Is it productive or social?  It is understandable why there is a difficulty in justifying subsidies of activities in the productive sector, including export crops, but food production and related food costs are so closely associated with the social sector and poverty that the classification and justification is de facto.  Besides, the reported comments can only apply where there is full employment in more productive activities than food production and this has not yet happened in any country – developed or developing, large or small.

Peter Webster

Note:  Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.