„Because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Those who are afraid to make a mistake will never make a significant achievement – Ted Hood, America’s cup winner – www.reproductionsinc.com

The online Bahai international community newsletter (Jul Sep 1996) states that: Civilisation began with agriculture. When our nomadic ancestors began to settle and grow their own food, human society was forever changed. Not only did villages, towns and cities begin to flourish, but so did knowledge, the arts and the technological sciences. For most of history, society‚s connection to the land was intimate. Human communities, no matter how sophisticated, could not ignore the importance of agriculture. To be far from dependable sources of food was to risk malnutrition and starvation.

In modern times, however, many in the urban world have forgotten the fundamental connection. Insulated by the apparent abundance of food that has come from new technologies for the growing, transportation and storage of food, humanity‚s fundamental dependence on agriculture is often overlooked‚.

When these observations are mapped onto an island economy it should be a wake up call. If for whatever reason our air and sea ports are not open, we will be dependent on an efficient food security plan. Indeed, an efficient food security plan may also trigger an agricultural diversification thrust and provide the foundation for agribusiness development of primary and industrial agricultural commodities for the growing tourist population and for export. The socio-economic impact of such a plan will be an increase in employment, optimal use of land and water resources, an increase in net foreign exchange earnings from the sector and enhanced socio-economic well being.

The social partners must therefore be applauded for the introduction of AgroFest 2005. Its predecessor, the Annual Agricultural Industrial Exhibition, was last held thirty years ago when my wife and children accompanied me on my return to reside in Barbados. She joined me on a visit to AgroFest on the Sunday afternoon, I guess partially out of curiosity, since she had no previous experience of such an event in Barbados. We were both suitably impressed with what we saw. We were there at the time of the closing ceremony and she was patient with me as I interrupted our walk through Queen‚s Park to position myself next to a loudspeaker to hear the Prime Minister as he was delivering his address.

I gleaned from these remarks that AgroFest indeed was a manifestation of a renewed agricultural thrust by the social partners in Barbados. I interpreted this as a realisation that, no matter how sophisticated we have become, we could not ignore the importance of agriculture.

Over twenty years ago, as Chairman of the Board of the then Barbados Marketing Corporation (BMC), I had the privilege of leading a team whose mandate was to develop a system for the successful production and marketing of non-traditional agricultural commodities. A system was established for the production and export marketing of sweet pepper and eggplant, in particular to Europe. This initiative coupled with the previous experience of exports of other less perishable root crops, yam and sweet potato, gave rise to some hope that the fledgling non-traditional agricultural industry could be nurtured, developed and sustained. There has been no such luck. Efforts were thwarted by political interference and the lack of appreciation of the importance of the agricultural sector.

Since then we have introduced the social compact in Barbados but we have also experienced the decline of king sugar‚ which is the mainstay around which agriculture has been built. The social partners have examined the potential of a diversified sugar cane industry, are still grappling with trying to gain value-added revenues from the West Indian sea Island Cotton industry, which has been around for hundreds of years, and are yet to find solutions to the problem of praedial larceny and the extension of the onion industry to provide local onions all year round.

Part of the problem is resistance to change and the it hasn’t been done before‚ syndrome. It is time that we become innovative and recognize that we cannot get sustainable growth without risk. Those who are afraid to make a mistake will never make a significant achievement.

We must therefore re-examine the non-traditional agricultural environment; conceptualise a future vision; suggest a strategy for change; and then produce and implement a dynamic plan for non-traditional agricultural commodities.

We have made a start with the sugar cane and cotton industries, let us now introduce appropriate marketing, operational, capital and human resource management systems to direct them on a path to sustainable success.

As far as praedial larceny is concerned the solution is very straight forward if the political will is there. License all producers, traders and buyers and police the system. As for onion drying and storage, solar technology is available. What are we waiting for? As the cotton acreage increases there will need to be research and development to increase the effiency of the hand harvesting system. These three initiatives will restore confidence in existing serious farmers, will raise hope for those who are about to give up and inspire new entrepreneurs to consider agriculture as a preferred path for the future.