Slice too small
One agriculture sector stakeholder again today questioned the commitment of investment in agriculture, even as he pointed out that by comparison millions are being given to tourism.
CEO of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul, speaking on the issue of use of renewable energy in agriculture at a workshop this morning said: “We look at investment in agriculture, but we must view agriculture as any other business and the fact of the matter is that the reason people are investing in tourism today is because the Government’s investment in tourism is huge.
“Our Government spends over $20 million plus in marketing the tourism sector and that is money that does not come out of the pockets of hoteliers. So that is why sometimes when I hear hoteliers complain that they are not getting enough, they are getting $20 million-plus, and the support of the BTA. What does the farming sector get, on the other hand?
“A sector seriously that if we are going to survive as a country going forward, if we are going to seriously tackle the whole issue of the increases in food prices that we are seeing today we have to invest in the sector… How we can cushion the impact of that if we have the policy where we increase food production in Barbados. So generally we need to start to command resources that cushion the impact of increases in food prices,” Paul maintained.
He was addressing a three-day workshop at the Amaryllis Beach Resort titled Renewable Energy Options for the Agriculture Sector with a Focus on Women Farmers.
Paul noted that Barbados had vibrant pork and poultry sectors, and he believed these could be areas for the development of renewable energy. The dairy sector as well he said, was another area where such resources could be targeted for renewable energy investment in a significant way.
Using Barbados Farms as an example, Paul challenged that one of the concerns was that farms that went into the area of renewable energy either stopped short or started before all things were in place for a smooth completion of the process.
“[I] really think that where we have a situation that individual producers are willing to try things, I think that we should have no difficulty in terms of investing in those private farms that are willing to at least try renewable energy projects. The thing is that yes there are incentives, but one of the problems we have with incentives … is that we sometimes give farmers too big a hurdle to actually jump over.”
One of the challenges as well, he contended, was the marketing of such initiatives, arguing that the situation existed in the island where some initiatives were only dealt with at a particular time of year. He argued, that the sector should not have to wait for a Budget presentation or an initiative from the Minister of Finance.
If an incentive was not working, he maintained, there had to be a reason and it could be that it was very poorly marketed or constructed.
“So what we need to do is go to our stakeholders and ask ‘Why is this not working?’ and tweak it in order to ensure that they can access it and we seem to be very stuck in the mud to say that the only time we can look at an incentive is when the Minsiter of Finance presents it some time in May or June. We need to move away from that kind of inflexibility in our bureaucracy so that people feel that they are being responded to and you don’t tell people that the only time it can be done is at a certain time of the year.”
To introduce the kind of “dynamism” necessary in agriculture, Paul said, stakeholders had to begin to think outside the box in relation to the concept of renewable energy.
The huge amount of untapped space on roof tops of poultry farms, he said, could house solar-type panels and systems to create energy. However, no moves of consequence had been made in that direction, he posited.
“Let’s stop talking and give an incentive, even if it means at the end of it we provide some free photovoltaic cells to farmers and encourage them. When you look at the models in other countries that have proven to be successful over the years … Brazil, when they went into poultry farming, they actually built farms and told farmers to tend them. We have to be both creative and to be prepared to invest more in our people.” (LB)