Hope in dirt…

Congratulations are certainly in order for the Barbados Agricultural Society and its partners for pulling off another successful edition of Agrofest.

Additionally, it would not be fair to speak of the success of this event without acknowledging the sterling leadership of Chief Executive Officer of the BAS, James Paul, who managed to keep the annual exhibition at its usual high standard while successfully defending his seat in the House of Assembly.

While the two events are totally unrelated, the fact that he was able to successfully fight both battles at the same time is worthy of note.

Anyone who visited Queen’s Park during the three days of the agricultural exposition, but particularly on Saturday and Sunday, could not have failed to recognise that Barbadians supported the event in their tens of thousands.

What that says to us is that if the authorities at the BAS, and the Ministry of Agriculture can assist Barbadians in connecting the dots between their daily lives and the practice of agriculture, we could be that much closer to guaranteeing our food security.

There is no doubt that hundreds of Barbadians visited the park looking for bargains as far as agricultural produce was concerned — and based on the volume of sales noticed, this part of their agenda was certainly met.

However, there are two areas of the exhibition about which we took careful note, and both of which appear to hold tremendous potential for Barbados, and Barbadians, particularly in the current trying economic times. And we believe that if we are able to target them as we make strategic shifts in our agricultural focus, our future could be much brighter.

In the first instance, we were particularly heartened by the number of persons who expressed an interest in growing more of their own food, and who actually purchased seedlings to get the process going. We believe that a sensible, sustained education programme that says more than “grow more of what you eat and eat more of what you grow” will pay major dividends across our island.

We believe such a programme is necessary because there now is a serious knowledge and appreciation gap between today’s generation and that of our grand parents for whom “working with dirt” was almost natural. We have, it would appear, a significant number of young people who cannot identify every-day vegetables in the supermarket if they are not labelled.

Rekindling the connection between what we eat and its production is key.

The other area of note from Agrofest has been the success of Barbadians who have opted for animal husbandry. The quality of goats, sheep and cows displayed during the exhibition again suggests that with the right incentives we could go a long way in meeting our own meat needs.

The potential in this is that we have the capacity to kill two birds with one stone if we take an enlightened approach. With the continued demise of sugar and the abandonment of thousands of acres of land to bush, our agricultural planners ought to be giving serious consideration to alternative uses of the land — and we do not include housing in this list of alternatives.

Our experts ought to be examining, at this stage, the feasibility of large scale use of this idle land for production of sheep, goats and cattle, all three of which have been reared successfully here for decades, albeit not so much at the commercial level.

Agrofest has the potential to aid us in refreshing our minds and taking fresh guard at a time when our foreign exchange earning capacity is seriously challenged. Will we make Agrofest a game changer, or will it be just an annual exercise whose primary purpose will be its feel-good factor.

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