Barbados’ Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Indar Weir, has projected that the island’s sizable food import bill can be significantly cut by reducing the imports of primary agricultural goods by 25% to 30% Barbados’ Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Indar Weir, has projected that the island’s sizable food import bill can be significantly cut by reducing the imports of primary agricultural goods by 25% to 30% between 2019-2020 with an additional 10% each year thereafter, under the government’s flagship farm development program, The Farmers Empowerment and Enfranchisement Drive (FEED).
“The cornerstone of the success of this project will be ownership,” explained Minister Weir in a recent interview. “We want to follow the farming model of the Netherlands where there is a significant amount of equity in agribusiness and land ownership among local farmers. Nineteen percent of Dutch millionaires are farmers who own land and have a stake in the success of the agriculture sector.”
Globally, the empowerment of farmers has been directly correlated with poverty reduction, improved economies of scale, enhanced opportunities for growth and better governance. Demand-driven public policy and advisory services are also more relevant to stakeholders and are thus more effective.
FEED’s emphasis on practical and scientific knowledge and technology is inspired by Netherlands’ precision farming model. Under the program, clusters of farmers would be provided with greenhouses, vertical farming facilities, several hundred acres of land and enhanced post-harvest transportation. Agricultural workers would be trained and empowered to manage facilities, participate in urban farming projects and drive policy discussions. Government would be tasked with the job of research and development, regulation and facilitation and the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) would be charged with finding markets for agricultural output.
Significant annual import volumes of lettuce, onions, broccoli, cauliflower and an extensive variety of fruits have resulted in these crops being strategically targeted under the program. The 2018 importation of ten million kilos of white potatoes at a value of more than $6 million dollars has made this commodity an extremely high priority.
Significant annual import volumes of produce such as lettuce have resulted in their being strategically targeted under Barbados’ FEED program.
According to Minister Weir, the project will enhance Barbados’ climate resilience and support the conservation of the country’s natural resources. “The greenhouses will provide a degree of alleviation from the pressures of drought and flooding, and controlled conditions will ensure that we have the most efficient use of water. Waste will be used for feed or fertilizer and we will use biomass energy to fuel agricultural facilities, where ever possible,” explained the minister.
The minister also indicated that technologically controlled farming would ensure the quality and quantity of agricultural outputs. “The FEED program will ensure that local food is produced and marketed at a very high level,” said Minister Weir.
Under the new program, the primary role of government would be redirected from commercial activities, which are better suited to those who are directly involved in farming, to research and development.
“Our objective is to make Barbados a hub for research and development where government can explore the potential for initiatives such as medicinal cannabis, apiculture, growing the black belly sheep industry and expanding our sugar cane breeding station. Barbados has the best cane breeding station in the world and is currently working on climate resilient cane. With an enhanced research and development program we won’t have the stunted crops that we have had in the past,” explained Minister Weir.
FEED is slated to receive $2 million in government funding for the 2019-2020 financial year, to be used towards project implementation and delivery, and there have been additional expressions of interest from external investors.
Given that Barbados’ $325 million in food imports accounts for approximately 90% of all domestically consumed food, with $88 million of this expense being attributed to primary agricultural goods such as lettuce and onions that can be easily grown locally, the programme is expected to be a boon to the small nation’s economy. The sector is also ripe for strategic restructuring, given a 16% cut in government agricultural spending for 2019-2020.
“We are looking at implementing controlled systems that are organic and free of pests and disease with controlled inputs and high yields and best of all, the workers will be the business owners,” confirmed Minister Weir. “If there was a slogan for this project, it would be, Health and wealth… living what I eat. We are small and densely populated, but just like the Netherlands, we can do it.”
The government plans to begin implementation in June 2019.
Daphne Ewing-Chow: Contributor