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Reawakening agriculture’s potential

By George-01I am baffled by the national approach or lack thereof when it comes to a struggling agriculture sector and the high incidence of youth unemployment in Barbados.

Almost seven years ago, the then Barbados Minister of Agriculture Haynesley Benn, speaking at the Launch of the Youth In Agriculture Programme, Developing Agri-Preneurs, made this observation:

“Agriculture is a vital part of our livelihood, contributing to our GDP, foreign exchange earnings, employment, food security and food sovereignty. It has close linkages to tourism and other sub-sectors. Yet, its sustainability is threatened by a number of factors. One significant factor is the lack of interest our youth has in agriculture.”

Now clearly, if in 2009 the Government understood the extent of the problem hampering Barbados with the potential to inhibit social development, it meant that solutions had to be found and programmes implemented.

Everyone will agree that agriculture is important to the development of any nation. With Barbados having a high population density and limited land and other natural resources, this nation is even more challenged to cope and find effective solutions.

Therefore, it is important that the youth in Barbados are included not simply as passive participants but as active advocates, planners, and policymakers regarding the linkages to be found between their spaces and agricultural output.

At the national level, we have to ask the serious question, whether we have done enough to encourage our youth to contribute to agriculture production? Additionally, has the Government, working alone or in partnership with the private sector, provided ample incentives to advance agricultural development with focus on utilizing the multi-talents of our youth?

Many young people, on a daily basis, are saying that they have grown less inspired under the current administration. They find the dismal circumstances of joblessness unbearable.

Indeed, the Government’s 2011 Draft Youth Policy revealed the fundamental challenge facing Barbados, pointing to the youth’s desire to know “how to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing, highly competitive global market place.”

The fact that globalization has rendered more porous our borders and opened new avenues for doing business, means that we have to consistently encourage our youth to be involved locally, regionally, and internationally. Indeed, globalization has brought new opportunities for many workers, especially those who are well educated, and having the skills demanded in the high-tech global economy.

This is where Barbados’ food security and agriculture sector need to be expanded. Nonetheless, globalization has deepened insecurity and poverty for many others, including large numbers of our young people. Unfortunately, several of our young people do not have either the skills needed to compete or the means to acquire them. Providing our youth with work that is satisfying and the potential for earning decent incomes are paramount, even if this work is cast as a poverty-reduction strategy.

To follow the established practice of talk and more talk, or to do little or nothing is a dereliction of duty. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has to halt the drift, and the Ministry of Agriculture must encourage youth participation in the sector.

It is fairly easy to accept that since the 2008 change of government in Barbados, there were several factors inclusive of recession that would have negatively impacted young people in dire need of work. The number of formal jobs available to young people became lesser as the DLP frustrated over the common sense of imposing higher and more draconian taxes in recessionary years.

We know from literature in the western world that the main struggle of young people is “to enter and remain in the labour market” and that, globally, “young people are three times more likely than adults to be out of a job.” It is not surprising then that over the last eight years in Barbados, rising unemployment in both the private and public sectors have hurt the prospects for the youth and more broadly, for the agricultural sector.

Barbados achieved little or no economic growth between 2008 and 2016; and social and economic stagnation have held permanent resident status under the DLP in Barbados, thus inducing increased poverty.

Young people have been forced into the informal sector. While the informal sector is not necessarily a bad thing, there must still be the assistance provided by the state and its agencies for encouraging the development of entrepreneurial talents among young people.

Instead of hundreds of acres of land at Pool, Wakefield, Todds and many other plantations laying idle or overgrown with bush and cow itch, young people can be allowed to set up teams working in a programme of ownership and enterprise. Young people can lease and bring these lands back into the cultivation of food crops.

Focussing on one solution will not bring wholesale success, but it may effectively contribute to achieving employment generation and inclusive growth within the economy. Entrepreneurship still persists in the psyche of Barbadians as an unwanted insecurity that is likely to incur too many unbearable risks.

Clearly, both Government and the private sector have definitive roles to play so that we do not fail our young people. We can ill afford to sacrifice our food security given the inherent challenges faced by small island developing states (SIDS).

Writing in a popular development journal, Professor Alice Amsden contends that: “To slay the dragon of poverty, deliberate and determined investments in jobs above starvation wages must play a central role, whether for self-employment or paid employment.”

The implied significance of this statement is far-reaching, especially in the context that young people in Barbados are still struggling in 2016 to find and keep decent work.

Barbados’ agricultural sector has been left stranded by a lack of imagination and idea-deficiency from the policymakers. What should have been a happy and rewarding marriage between opportunities in agriculture and job creation appears permanently fractured.

In addition, the private sector is not sufficiently encouraged to maximize on youthful resources. There has to be an injection of urgency in responding to the needs of our young people and to redress the plight of agriculture.

Private sector development – formal and informal – has an important role to play in poverty reduction. The private sector, including small enterprises, creates and sustains the jobs necessary for poor people to work and earn the income needed to purchase goods and services.

Small enterprise development contributes to poverty reduction when it creates employment and job creation provides income to the poor. The key contention is that agriculture is vital to our survival, and so is our youth.

(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua).   Email: )

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