“Serve the Lord with a zealous spirit; let the Spirit excite you as you serve the Lord”- Romans 12:11
Last Wednesday, at the one-day National Consultation on “Repositioning the Agricultural Sector”, “enthusiasm” was the name of the game. The Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. the Hon. David Estwick, before a full house of agricultural stakeholders, gave the Feature Address. He abandoned his prepared speech and dramatically and enthusiastically relieved his frustrations as he delivered an address “from the heart”.
The Minister, who assumed responsibility for the Agricultural portfolio less than two years ago, lamented the slow pace of agricultural development. He added that successive governments have failed to diversify the agricultural sector and that the same ideas that were being promoted as far back as the 1950s are still taking centre stage today. In a wide-ranging address about the agricultural sector, the Minister said that unless somebody is prepared to do what has to be done, he is afraid that the agriculture sector would not move forward. He went on to say that he was fed up that such development was not being taken seriously and he contended, “It is either that my administration is going to take it seriously or I will resign – simple as that. I don’t waste my time, I don’t butt my head against a wall – I either move the wall or I am gone.”
Later in the proceedings, after presentations on: (1) “Global, Hemispheric and Regional issues Impacting Agriculture” by Mr Gregg Rawlins representing the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture; (2) “The Concept of Food and Nutrition Security” by Dr. Vincent Little, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Regional Policy Advisor; and (3) “Key Developments in the Agricultural Sector – The Ministry’s perspective” by Mr. Ralph Farnum, Barbados’ Acting Chief Agricultural Officer; we were treated to another enthusiastic, if not evangelical, presentation entitled “Repositioning the Food And Agricultural Sector of Barbados to meet the Challenges of the 21st Century” by Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, Chairman of the National Agricultural Commission.
He expertly developed the subject matter by referring to “The State of the World Economy”; “The World Food Situation”; “The Need to Reposition the Food and Agriculture Sector of Barbados”; “The Objectives of the White Paper; and “Elements of a National Food Plan” after which he concluded as follows: “This initiative is for us all, for our country, for our future. If we succeed, it will be our success; if we fail we fail together. Let us work together to maintain a healthy population and generate jobs and wealth in this beautiful country”.
“The measure of our success as a nation will not be the number of cars per capita or how many cell phones we have in the country, the measure of our success will be whether we have built a society where all of our citizens can participate in the benefits of development and where long-lasting institutional arrangements are made to provide for security, health, education, energy, water and food for the nation. Those who think that we should abandon the agricultural sector should think again”.
Senator, Dr. Frances Chandler, speaking from the floor during the panel discussion, observed that when the late Rt. Excellent Errol Walton Barrow introduced free education for all Barbadians at all levels of the social spectrum, there was no green paper, there was no white paper; however, there was political will and the appropriate legislation was enacted within weeks. She added that the equivalent of a white paper in the form of a public/private sector “National Agricultural Trading Trust” had already been presented by the National Agricultural Commission to successive Ministers of Agriculture, but to no avail.
The inspiration for the “National Agricultural Trading Trust” concept evolved from presentations at the annual technical conferences of the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture over the years and from collective experiences around the Caribbean region where agriculture has suffered a similar fate of political inertia.
This Trading Trust concept recognises that the agricultural sector is a trading sector where primary and processed agricultural goods (crops, livestock, fisheries, non-food/drink products) are sold to markets such as hotels, restaurants, institutions, supermarkets, farmers’ markets, hucksters, cruise ships, export markets and import substitution initiatives. Trading is properly a private sector function but it can only be successfully sustained if there is a user friendly primarily public sector enabling environment in place to provide the necessary support services, including innovative financing, to the suppliers and marketers to ply their trade. The National Agricultural Trading Trust is the Corporate Governance mechanism which facilitates the coordination of the trading and support service activities. What we need now is the political will to embrace it and the money to support it. There is no question as to the socio-economic return on this investment.
There was a blog posted by Madisyn Taylor on May 28 2012 entitled Think Globally, Eat Locally; Have Fun and Save the Planet. The message was “Eating locally produced food as much as possible is best for your body as its life force is stronger from being fresh. We all know that our planet needs our help right now, but we often feel unsure about what to do, where to make an effort, and what will really help. The good news is that we can heal the planet on a daily basis simply by buying and eating food that is grown locally”.
We look forward to the Minister’s action and success in persuading his Cabinet colleagues “to take agriculture seriously” in the limited time that is available before the next general election.