Something is wrong. Something is very wrong. We hold no brief for anyone. Indeed the personage we today ask questions of is quite capable of speaking on her own behalf.
But in the context of her professional calling, as well as what we would have observed from the Upper House of Parliament for more than five years, the absence of former Senator Dr. Frances Chandler from among those independent officers called to serve our Parliament is shocking.
That agriculture is not seen as one of the most important industries and ministries, and treated as such, is a national disgrace. It is a crying shame in any corner of the globe where people dwell. And in small developing countries such as Barbados, those who dedicate their lives and their voices to pushing the importance of the sector are invaluable nuggets.
Chandler, an agronomist of note, has been a consistent advocate of productivity in basically every sphere of public life, but it is in her championing of the agriculture sector and pushing the necessity to reduce our high food import bill, that she has stood out way and above most contributors, if not all, to have graced the Upper Chamber in recent years.
We have not been apprised of any ailment to the goodly lady or her stated desire not to serve in the Senate, so it is within this context that her absence astounds.
She has been critical of both Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party attitudes and practices as they relate to agriculture, always erudite in her assessments, and frequently putting forward reasonable suggestions to compliment her criticisms.
Dr. Chandler has sometimes courted controversy in her passion for agriculture and the desire to see a proper land use policy where fertile land is not used primarily to grow houses, hotels and golf courses. She drew the ire of some in officialdom last year when she said that perhaps Barbadians needed a period of “starvation” to make the country come to its senses on agriculture.
“It has always been treated as the poor relative, yet it feeds all the lawyers, doctors and engineers that we deify,” she said at the time.
She has previously implored the Government that if land is to be taken up for commercial development, dry coastal areas that present challenges to farmers should be the preferred choice and not the fertile lands of St. George and St. Thomas and elsewhere. Much of her advice has fallen on deaf ears.
Rather than Government sticking to an election promise of implementing an Agriculture Protection Act, the state has kept in place a situation where parliamentary approval is all that is required for change of use of holdings of at least 100 acres. †This has drawn her vocal ire.
“I think this is ludicrous; under this arrangement, change of use could be obtained without parliamentary approval for the whole island in lots of under 100 acres at a time,” she blasted Government last year.
Chandler has beseeched successive administrations to, among other things: Develop a sensible land use policy that maintains the best land in agriculture; immediately stabilise and diversify the sugar industry into a sugar cane industry; make an immediate decision on the Sea Island Cotton industry; re-organise food production by twinning farmers with markets (e.g hotels, supermarkets, agro-processing); organise import permits in spite of WTO and CARICOM agreements and import only when Barbados needs a product; tie incentives given to tourism to use of a minimum percentage of local food; enforce the 60 per cent local produce rule for institutions; place heavy taxes on those who run agricultural land into bush or force them to lease it at reasonable prices to farmers; develop sales to cruise industry, and a host of other suggestions.
How many of her excellent suggestions have been examined, we ask?
At a time when many question the relevance of the Senate and several dismiss it as a peg just above an inflated chat room, those who make vital, national, apolitical contributions ought to be treasured.
We say thank you Senator Dr. Chandler for your contributions and your interest in seeing Barbadians feed themselves more.
But the Senate will be the poorer for your absence whenever it is convened.
And we make no apology to anyone.†††