“Then God said – Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds – and it was so” – Genesis 1:11
Last week we witnessed the official opening of the 2008-2013 parliament which lived up to expectations with its display of pomp and ceremony. The major feature of the occasion was the Throne Speech read by Acting Governor-General His Excellency the Hon. Elliott Belgrave ChB. The opening salvo was “It is now my privilege and my duty to outline my Government’s programme for the second Parliamentary term of the 21st Century”.
During the next hour we were provided with much food for thought. We must now await the conversion of these thoughts into action before we can revel in the euphoria of a satiated appetite.
In particular, it was heartening to note the five priorities delineated in the section of the Throne Speech which addressed “Land Use Planning for Environmental Protection and Agricultural Development”.
(1) “Establishing priorities in land use planning is of critical importance in a small island faced with competing demands on its limited land resources. Policies that leave the use and sale of land to market forces, are putting considerable pressure on agriculture and the natural environment”.
Barbados’ land area is only 105,000 acres: such a land use plan, if not already in existence, can be readily produced.
(2) “My Government is convinced that sugar cane production is essential to environmental and ecological sustainability in Barbados, and will apply its best efforts to ensure that the maximum benefit is derived from the production of all the products and by-products of the sugar cane plant”.
Cane separation, where the wax, rind, juice and pith can be converted into value-added products, should not be ignored.
(3) “It will provide continuing support of viable agricultural production, when viewed not from a narrow focus of financial profitability, but from a broader perspective of national resource use. Agricultural output contributes vitally to food security in the context of the possibilities in a small island economy. It continues to provide income, employment and output for rural communities and contributes to rural prosperity. Indeed, the growing demand for healthy food to combat obesity and related lifestyle diseases provides welcome opportunities for efficient production”.
It is quite amazing how Barbados and other small island states, very often appeal for help from industrialised developed countries, on the grounds that we are not blessed with natural resources. This has often resulted in an ephemeral mendicant approach to life in contrast to a persistent industrious approach where one makes the best use of the resources that we do have.
Idle land is a wasted resource and agriculture provides an opportunity to utilise this land through such an industrious approach. Indeed, this was stated, as follows, by Curt D. Delice from St Lucia in the discussion distributed by the FAO-Carib-Agro listserve on – Caribbean should import food rather than produce it, says World Bank staff member. Delice said “shouldn’t we be looking at agriculture not only in its role as pertains to food security, but to – cultural function (transmission of traditional knowledge), economic function (employment, contribution to GDP), and its environmental function (farmers plant crops which protect watersheds and ensures water for the cities/towns; their absorption of carbon).”
(4) “My Government will also encourage the orderly development of the fisheries sub-sector, which continues to be an important part of our economy, through the provision of necessary infrastructure and the conclusion of negotiations with Trinidad and Tobago on a Fisheries Agreement”.
(5) “On a larger canvas, my Government’s land use policies and the need to save agriculture are part of the commitment to preserve the natural environment. It will therefore introduce the Agriculture Protection Act that will require a 2/3 majority of both Houses of Parliament for a change of use of land from agriculture. At least 30, 000 acres of land will be reserved for agricultural use”.
If one recognises the importance of agriculture, a good land use and agricultural policy would not permit the folly of allocating good arable land for housing use. There is plenty of land in Barbados for agriculture and housing, contrary to popular opinion. I would expect the land use plan to confirm this.
Two Saturdays ago the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture (founded in 1939) held its annual general meeting and annual conference. We were honoured by the presence of Senator the Hon. Haynesley Benn, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who addressed the meeting. The Ministry’s Chief Agricultural Officer was also in attendance. Minister Benn, who is no stranger to the technologists present, acknowledged their contribution to his development and promised to continue to call on the good counsel of members of the BSTA.
The special theme for the conference was “agricultural opportunities” and we had interactive dialogue on backward linkages to agricultural production from industries such as condiments, fresh fruit and vegetable import substitution, sea island cotton and other exotic exports, bio-diesel production, cassava as a replacement for imported wheat flour and feed, sugar cane by-products and year round supply of onions. We concluded that there is plenty of land to expand these industries significantly and thereby realise the Minister’s dream of agriculture and its linkages being an important leader of the growing economy of Barbados.