Time for a ban?

The vexatious problem of Barbados’ high food import bill is one with which successive governments have struggled.

Both Barbados Labour Party and Democratic Labour Party governments have been guilty in the past of merely paying lip service to the issue of increasing and diversifying local food production and simultaneously removing the island from the import doormat of other nations.

With respect to one former administration in particular, the documented evidence and the stated policy was to put land to its maximum, profitable use. This resulted in a situation where for fourteen years a number of real estate enterprises, golf courses and the like proudly grew up from prime agricultural soil. And the policy brought significant financial gain to Barbados. But at what price?

We continue to pay heavily for successive governments’ refusal to take drastic action on agriculture and food production, while pandering to the import mentality and tastes of a people who seem not to understand the importance of feeding themselves.

The ignorance which prevails in this country is perhaps best exemplified within the corridors of political power itself, where some turn their noses down on agriculture as something mundane and hanker after what they assume to be more exciting responsibilities.

The time has long passed for Government to draw the line in the sand on food importation.

We are aware that there are special interests in the food import industry that make substantial profits from this almost parasitic attitude of feeding off others. But, we say, their interests be damned.

Former Independent Senator Dr. Frances Chandler has said that some starvation might be necessary for Barbadians to wake up on this issue. And she is absolutely right.

Back in the early mid-1970s late Guyana President Forbes Burnham in an attempt to combat the country’s serious balance of payment problems, embarked on an initiative to reduce the country’s massive import bill. He banned the importation of food items such as flour, butter, cheese, preserved fruits, cooking oil, an array of canned items and a host of other products.

Luxury items were only brought into the country if there was a programme that at least attempted to produce them internally.

Of course he met with criticisms and resistance. Many special interests raised their voices. After all, the few were losing money even if the country was heading on a difficult, but progressive path.

Years later Guyana’s agriculture is among the strongest in the region, if not the strongest. The Government can feed its people without too massive a reliance on unnecessary imported foods. The tough decisions of the past, coupled with attitudinal change, have apparently produced positive results.

Today Guyanese consume their own sugar, bananas, citrus fruits, pepper, pumpkin, livestock and poultry varieties, vegetable oil, and a host of other items, including canned products.

It is true that south Caribbean country is under-populated and has greater land space than Barbados to facilitate major food production. But the point is that the problem in Barbados does not relate mainly to space or population numbers. The over-riding issue is one of attitudes, mentality and a willing, slavish dependence on cargo arriving at the Bridgetown Port.

There are fast-food outlets that import chicken and beef. There are mega-marts that import milk, vegetables and processed foods that can be produced in Barbados. The time is perhaps ripe, since some of these entities ignore local producers of the same commodities, for Government to ban the importation of certain foods.

Place the onus on Barbados’ food producers to meet the requirements of our hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and other consumers.

Needless to say, within the context of existing trade relations and arrangements with our CARICOM neighbours, especially Trinidad and Tobago, the adjustment of an import regime with trading partners, even outside the region, will necessitate discussion and collaboration. We appreciate the legalities and inter-locking treaties.

But the effort must start. And it must start at home. And it must begin with a change of attitude toward agriculture and the need for greater self-reliance.

Our food import bill gets bigger every year. Politicians spout the same empty rhetoric every day. Consumers rush to the supermarkets and purchase all manner of items clueless or perhaps just indifferent to the culture which they are perpetuating.

Perhaps a period of starvation is indeed needed for Government and Barbadians to finally get it.

3 Responses to Time for a ban?

  1. Freeagent March 13, 2013 at 8:53 am

    I agree with the writer for these have been my sentiments for a long time. We Barbadians need to appreciate and use what we produce- food, clothing etc. We make the excuse that tourists do not always want what we produce but we have to use what is offered when we travel outside of Barbados. We Barbadians have the notion that when something is imported it is better than what we produced here and we’ve got to forget that way of thinking . USE WHAT WE PRODUCE. There are imported items that do not match some our locally produced ones. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs need to examine some the the goods that are sold in our supermarkets as some of these expensive items are fit for consumption by animals only.
    Government should also import the same amount of goods, in dollar value, that we export to a country – no more 100% imports to our 50% exports.
    WE CAN survive if we work together.

  2. Sharon B March 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    I also agree that it is a time for change. More emphasis needs to be placed on agriculture immediately. There is nothing wrong with farming,being self-sufficientand maintaining a much more natural environment. There used to be an abundance of fruit that could be picked from the roadside and the place used to be so bright and colourful. Our forefathers worked the land and sweated out in the heat when we had nothing, but as the country developed and our social conditions improved we seem to have forgotten where we have come from.While we don’t want to get our hands dirty other neighbouring islands continue to invest in tourism but give the same importance if not more to their own productivity and exportation. What little that is produced on the island is of a much higher quality than the inferior products imported to clog up shelf space.
    Barbados is now in an economic crisis and can no longer afford to rely on tourists as before. Start at the lowest level by educating the young people and investing in the land for agriculture. Promotion at the highest level to BUY BAJAN should be on everyones mouth if they have Barbados at heart. No restaurant, hotel or franchise should be able to operate on the island without ensuring that bajan produce is utilised. Let’s hope Government put the people first and start getting everyone involved in a feed ourselves campaign or who knows how Barbados will continue to survive.

  3. Brimstone March 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    This editorial is perfectly correct. We need to have a bout of starvation to bring us to our senses. It takes an epiphany to herald change, and no government of Barbados will ever change the status quo.
    Agriculture is vitally important and worked up to the 1970’s until we had the unceremonious auction of land in excess of $15.00/sq ft which changed our landscape forever. Since then, numerous persons have taken the plantation land (sometimes illegally) out of production for lavish projects.
    In agreeing to a ban, I would also like to note that we then need to restrict ALL residential development, and look at high rise housing. If we want to import, then pick the positive areas. Barbadian housing is now equal to or worth more than the average USA house.
    We need to put all the plantations from St. Lucy to St.Philip and St. George back into agriculture. The Pine agricultural station used to cater for fine grasses for dairy cows, this is now idle. The myth of tourist requiring special foods is a bunch of crap. Most survive on fries and burgers, and hotdogs. I witnessed it three weeks ago at an international forum in New York, plus the average tourist is as cash strapped as our average civil servant.
    Above all this the government needs to put the correct people in the Min Agric who know, understand, ad would be committed to ensure success in the agro area. We also need to dispense with some treaties, which bind our hands, since they offer no real economic value to the nation, and we are not favourably viewed by our neighbors, who offer little value to our development.
    Case in point is the myth of ever having a fishing traey with Trinidad, who always seek to misappropriate and reneg on their agreements, whether it is garment or otherwise related quotas.
    Quotas were reneged on from as far back as the DeSilva – D’Arbeu time between Barbados and Trinidad. We have nothing to gain from them, let us echo our forefathers sentiments… Home Drum Beat First ………. Eat local, buy local, we also need to develop solar electricity, it free and local too………We are survivors, we dont need foreigners to tell us how to survive, we need to ….. Just Do It….. God Bless my island, it too sweet…….


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