“Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” – Genesis 9:3

The Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture, formerly the Barbados Sugar Technologists’ Association, has been in existence for over 68 years. Its members, from both the public and private sectors, meet formally at an Annual General Meeting held in January or February on which occasion there is an annual conference. Members and guests meet at monthly field visits, which are very instrumental in apprising individuals of the latest developments in the country that impact on agriculture and its linkages.

The BSTA is governed by a Council of sixteen members, who meet monthly to discuss the business of the society. There are at least ten members present at each Council meeting. Whenever a new Minister of Agriculture is appointed, an invitation is issued to introduce the activities of BSTA. The current council consists of experienced individuals in crops, livestock, the Scotland district and business; the institutional linkages they bring include the private and public sectors, CDB, CARDI, FAO, IICA and the Barbados Community College.

The BSTA members are mindful of the glory days of agriculture, where over 60,000 acres of arable land (60% of the total land area of Barbados) were cultivated. At that time commodity sugar was king. The BSTA has witnessed the decline in arable acreage under agriculture, the demise of commodity sugar and the erosion of the contribution of agriculture to the GDP to the extent that the impression is given that ‘agriculture is dead’ in Barbados.

Last year, the BSTA Council reviewed its role and thought that it should become more proactive in garnering the considerable collective experience of BSTA members and associates in advising on the rebirth of Barbados’ agriculture in the context of a constantly changing global environment. Indeed, the council is mindful of the need to convert the text “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” into Action.

The council therefore decided to have as the theme at its 2006 conference “Steps to Increase Trade in Agricultural Products and Services” with a specific focus on “Rationalising the Roles of Agricultural Organisations” in order to get the best ‘bang’ for the limited ‘bucks’ that are available. We believe that the Government must set policy and focus on regulatory and service functions. ‘Regulatory’ to develop laws in support of the policy and ‘service’ in the context of creating a user-friendly enabling environment for the private sector to effect its role which is “to do business”. The role of the trade unions should be to induce harmony between the employers and employees for greater productivity and fair compensation. The role of NGOs like the BSTA is to provide and independent opinion on the activities of the private, public and trade union sectors.

The fifty participants at the conference, including the Chief Agricultural Officer, participated in dynamic brainstorming sessions in an interactive roundtable environment. The output from the Conference is being prepared and, as soon as it is approved by the BSTA council, it will be shared with the people of Barbados through the media some of whom were participants at the conference.

Last Thursday, Edward Cumberbatch invited former Senator Keith Laurie, current BSTA President, and myself, a council Member, as guests on his CBC ‘call-in’ programme ‘Talk yuh talk agriculture’. We outlined the approach at the conference and were gratified by the endorsement of the approach by more than one caller. Edward also promised to have us back to elucidate the recommendations being made regarding the rebirth of the agricultural sector.

In presenting the challenge “the steps to increase trade and agricultural products and services” to participants, the BSTA considered the following format for its conference. (1)Goal: Contribute to the reduction of the economic divide between Barbados and OECD countries; (2) Objective: Identify agricultural business opportunities; (3) Strategy: Delineate the missing links; (4) Plan: BSTA Interactive Dialogue Round Table Sessions to identify and discuss the missing links; (5) Action: Recommend the rationalization of the roles of agricultural organizations.

BSTA identified twenty (20) business opportunities within the Barbadian agricultural sector, each of which requires a detailed business plan to access its potential to earn or save foreign exchange and each of which is capable of attracting several players, in a Collaborative Private Sector Business Gearing System Linking Macro- Mini- and Micro-Enterprises, to form its productive base.

These business opportunities for fresh and processed (where appropriate) commodities are; (1) Ornamentals – Fruits; (2) Herbs – Spices – Oil – Organic -Aloe Vera; (3) Sea Island Cotton; (4) Sugar Cane; (5) Rum; (6) Vegetables – Root Crops; (7) Eggs and Poultry; (8) Pork ; (9) Dairy; (10) Beef; (11) Lamb – Chevon; (12) Forestry – Craft; (13) Sericulture – Vermiculture – Composting; (14) Aquaculture and Exotic Aquarium Fish; (15) Industrial Mining; (16) Recreation – Hospitality; (17) Eco -Tourism; (18) In Shore Fishing; (19) Off Shore Fishing; (20) Deep Sea Fishing.

If a systematic business development process is applied to each of these business opportunity areas and if the roles of the social partners are rationalised to remove the blurring of responsibilities then agriculture will in fact be alive and well.