Barbados has embarked on the first phase of an ambitious national public-private sector project that could significantly cut this country’s $1/2 billion annual food import bill, drastically improve local agricultural production and discourage praedial larceny.
The Government venture, which is being supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, will also put more local produce on the tables of consumers and link farmers, retailers, processors, food shops and all others in the
food chain through a proposed Web-based central market information system.
Operating under the concept of a food zone, the pilot programme, which initially involves all stakeholders in St George and St Michael, got off the ground this morning with the official launch at The Glebe in St George.
The venture is also targeting food crop and livestock thieves, with the police in the Southern Division already on board. Deputy Chief Agricultural Officer Dr Dennis Blackman said a number of suspects had been arrested and charged.
Dr Blackman said police would be intensifying their efforts at catching these thieves to try to stamp out what he described as a scourge on the agricultural sector.
He told Barbados TODAY an increased team of agricultural extension officers had also been deployed in the field to assist farmers with their various needs.
“This is a scourge, it is our number one problem in farming in Barbados, and I am very pleased to see that the Southern Division has taken it on board as their mandate and they have already started and they told me of some of the things they are doing to try to reduce this problem,” he declared.
Blackman disclosed that an agricultural survey showed that the districts which supported the food zone comprised 526 farmers, but of that number, 244 were located within the actual designated physical boundaries.
“We looked at the number of farmers in St George and St Philip and the number of farmers within the actual boundary, and those within the actual boundary are 244,” added the Government official. Of this number, 77 have one acre or more of land, while the remaining 167 control less than one acre.
Therefore, he said, their production could not be as high
as they wanted it to be, adding that measures would be put in place to support those who want to produce and increase productivity on small plots of land.
Blackman disclosed that the designated physical boundary of the St Michael-St George Food Zone stretched from the area of the Emancipation Statute at Haggatt Hall, heading east to the Dash Valley junction and running along districts by the St George Secondary School, The Glebe, Gun Hill, Golden Ridge, Sweet Vale, Market Hill, Lears, Hothersal Turning and back to the Emancipation Statue.
The agricultural officer said the market information system would allow farmers to identify their markets, importers to determine what, and how much to import, food shops and processors to know where the producers are and for better forecasts and monitoring of food production.
Depending on the outcome of this pilot, this food zone will be replicated throughout Barbados and possibly, across the region.
Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick said he had
instructed the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation to buy, en masse, from farmers within the food zone. This would allow them to benefit from the cheapest inputs for their needs and radically alter their cash flow situation. He revealed that a white paper on agriculture would also go before Cabinet in the next couple of weeks, and shortly he planned to get Cabinet to discuss the procurement of a certain percentage of all Government projects to farmers.
He said the food zone and Government’s other agricultural initiatives would result in substantially cheaper farmer output across Barbados.
“Coming out of that white paper, what we have as a matter of fact, and evidence to support that data, is that we produce about 60 to 65 per cent of all of the consumption in Barbados and there are only about 15 to 20 different items, that we import heavily in Barbados,” Estwick said.