“Let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened … There I will give you my love”—Song of Solomon 7:12

The Index Mundi is promoted as the home of the Internet’s most complete country profiles. Here is what the Mundi has to say about Barbados in its 2013 profile summary. “Barbados is the wealthiest and most developed country in the Eastern Caribbean and enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in Latin America. Historically, the Barbadian economy was dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities. However, in recent years the economy has diversified into light industry and tourism with about four-fifths of GDP and of exports being attributed to services. Offshore finance and information services are important foreign exchange earners … Barbados’ tourism, financial services, and construction industries have been hard hit since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, which caused the economy to contract 4% in 2009 and grow below 1% annually since 2010. Barbados’ public debt-to-GDP ratio rose to from 56% in 2008 to 83% in 2012.”

The summary begins with a statement of which any given country would be proud. An obvious expectation would be to continue to do those things that gave us such a sound foundation, build on that foundation and create a position from which we can take advantage of opportunities that life has to offer. The world is our oyster!

It goes on to explain how the economy has been diversified away from sugarcane cultivation, which by the way was once integrated with food production and paid a significant part in feeding the nation during the second world war. The sugarcane plant cultivation has been deceased significantly, with all its deleterious effects including an impact on the environment, without the implementation of a sugarcane plant diversification solution. Much talk no action!

A consequence of this diversification is the current inexcusable statistic of an unprecedented BB$700 million food import bill. I believe that a significant portion of this can be eroded if we practised the maxim, often attributed to the late Mrs. Carmeta Fraser, “Grow what you eat and eat what you grow!”

Then the summary concludes by blaming the global economic crisis in 2008 for the mediocre performance of the diversified sectors  tourism, financial services, and construction industries. This performance is manifested by the statistics and we could add “unemployment is hovering around the double digit threshold.”

We need to talk less about the recession and act more on an innovative vision for the diversification of the agricultural sector. There is no more appropriate a time than our annual focus on “Eat Bajan Day” which concept was initiated by The Graham Gooding Trust Fund and will be observed this year on Friday October 11.

The Trustees of the Graham Gooding Trust Fund commemorate the late E.G.B. Gooding (1915-1987) who was born in Britain of Barbadian parents and was educated at Harrison College and Cambridge University. He was a botanist, agriculturalist, food technologist and environmentalist and I was fortunate to have interacted with him on many occasions on my return to Barbados in 1974. He researched and published extensively on the ecology and flora of Barbados.

Eat Bajan Day is to sensitise us to the importance of local agriculture and fisheries to our health and wealth and to the planet’s future. The Trustees are encouraging you to try to use only local foods and drinks for your meals on Eat Bajan Day.

We are fortunate in Barbados to have an average per capita income level which places us above the poverty line. However, obesity, especially among children, raises the concern of proper nutritional balance.  We must focus on producing more locally and eating the right foods.

The Bank On Me TV Reality show, which is currently being aired on Tuesday nights at 8.05pm on Barbados CBC TV Channel 8,  is a novel and exciting show which invites entrepreneurs to take on challenges and make their pitch in front a panel of esteemed judges for various forms of available investment and support. There were 28 contestants who were accepted and it is heartening to note that among them were: (1) Adams Aqualife – a commercial fish farm; and (2) Caribbean Villa Chefs. Adams Aqualife is expanding its production of Red Tilapia and Red Claw Crayfish for the local food market. Caribbean Villa Chefs is a mobile company offering private chefs and hospitality staff for private villas, residences and offices who entertain friends and clients locally and regionally.

The Barbados Society of Technologists on Agriculture (BSTA), which is the successor organisation to the Barbados Sugar Technologists’ Association (1939), meets monthly and is a wealth of information regarding agricultural business opportunities. They include (1) Crops  (Fresh or Processed): Ornamentals – Fruits – Herbs – Spices – Oil – Organic – Aloe Vera – Cotton – Sugar Cane -Vegetables – Root Crops; (2) Livestock (Fresh or Processed):Eggs and Poultry – Pork – Dairy – Beef – Lamb – Chevon; (3) Scotland District/ Marine Environment – Forestry – Craft – Sericulture – Vermiculture – Composting – Aquaculture and Exotic Aquarium Fish – Industrial Mining – Recreational – Hospitality – Eco Tourism; and (4) Fisheries (Fresh and Processing) – In Shore – Off Shore – Deep Sea.

There is no shortage of opportunities we just need vision and action which must include seed/venture capital finance and shepherding to mitigate the risk of failure. Let us invest in local foods and create local jobs.