Feeding ourselves into oblivion
As far back as 1974 an international commitment was made at a World Food Summit to eradicate food insecurity.
The nexus between a strong agriculture base and the eradication of hunger, promotion of a healthy lifestyle and food purchasing power, was recognized as the way forward for the more than eighty nations across the globe.
However, as with most things in life, there are often situations which have the capacity to undermine even the best conceived plans. Misguided land use policies, storage, transportation, production costs, indifference, wars and myriad reasons have contributed to several nations not following through on stated commitments with respect to agriculture.
While Barbados has been free of war and the type of civil upheaval that undermine most agrarian policies, the island has nonetheless been afflicted by reprehensible attitudes towards agriculture, an affinity for importing edible filth and by myopic politicians, more concerned with securing their pensions than ruffling feathers and dirtying their hands in the cause of national food security.
Our politicians – of both the Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party variety – have been culpable in allowing agriculture to flounder over the past decades.
We have had a previous administration planting steel, bricks and cement on agricultural land, and watching admiringly as beautiful concrete plants sprang into full bloom. We have for the past seven years heard hard-working agriculturist and Member of Parliament James Paul complain publicly of what should be done and not done in agriculture, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is part of Government and in a position to “ruffle feathers and dirty hands” in
We have had independent Senator Dr Frances Chandler, for years the sole voice in either the Lower or Upper House who consistently and apolitically championed the cause of agriculture and offered technical and practical advice, being dumped from the Senate, when, if were it possible, she should have been a life member.
We have had a series of temper tantrums thrown by Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick, who some suggest would prefer a more ‘high profile’ posting such as the Ministry of Finance. We prefer to believe, though, that he is not any l’enfant terrible, but is prone to go off the boil when he does not receive the cooperation he requires to manage his ministry with optimum efficiency and success. Someone should remind him he manages the most important ministry in the land.
A political promise was made to introduce an Agriculture Protection Act some time ago. One would have thought that such a piece of legislation was vital within the context of food self-sufficiency and security, promoting good health practices and reducing the country’s ridiculous import bill, and would have attracted a sense of urgency. Instead, the legislation remains either in draft or deep within the recesses of someone’s fertile imagination.
In all these circumstances the common thread is that decision-makers and those with the clout in Barbados do not take agriculture seriously enough. It is given perfunctory attention, and only that because it would be politically incorrect to ignore the sector overtly.
Barbadians should not settle for walking into supermarkets and purchasing imported commodities that could not make the shelves and racks of first-world countries. They should not settle for our dairy farmers having to throw away their milk because there is no market. From bottled water to processed meats to tamarinds are imported in circumstances where an inventory of some shopping centers would expose several items that are, or could be, produced at home.
Ministers of Health past and present, from John Boyce and Donville Inniss, to Jerome Walcott and Liz Thompson, among others, have attested to the connection between diet and the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases in Barbados. Sadly, no one seems to truly appreciate that the diabetes which leads to amputations, or the hypertension, heart attack, obesity, and the like, have much of their origin in indifference towards agriculture and what we consume.
Noted Zimbabwean biologist and environmentalist Allon Savory is quoted as saying that without agriculture it is not possible to have a city, stock market, banks, university, church or army. Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and any stable economy, he added. He also once famously quipped: “Only livestock can save us.”
Unfortunately, many of us tend to treat agriculture so callously, that not even God should help us.