News items in the last couple of weeks gave pause to the BU household to reflect on the state of agriculture in Barbados. If there is one industry that tells a sorry tale of mismanagement, lack of vision, a dearth of leadership – you get the idea – it is agriculture. The news that Barbados will produce about 7,000 tonnes of sugar in 2016 demands an explanation from government and in particular the minister of agriculture David Estwick who although known for making ‘noise’ has been very quiet on the abysmal performance of the sugar industry. If one is to judge from the statement that was issued by Chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL) Patrick Bethel, government must take much of the blame because of the late payment of the 2015 incentive payments totalling 15 million dollars. According to Bethell this is money used historically by the independent sugar farmers to prep for the season to come by servicing equipment, dropping manure among other tasks.
Then there was the perennial cry from CEO of the Barbados Agriculture Society (BAS) and a few others that the scourge of praedial larceny continues to decimate the industry making it difficult for farmers to be profitable. There was a great expectation for the agriculture industry when Haynesley Benn and James Paul were elected to parliament on the same side. Both came with a rich agriculture background and resume. Benn tried his best before he was posted to a cushy diplomatic Consul General job in Canada, duty free perks and all! Surprisingly Paul was not given the opportunity to succeed Benn and in 2011 had to stave an attempt to oust his as the CEO of the BAS – James Paul M.P. Fired from the BAS. The obvious question is why between Benn and Paul they have been unable to flesh out and champion a plan for agriculture. Why all the long talk and little progress in the industry for the eight years they have gained the government. Has there been any significant output by the agriculture industry to place a dent in food imports? Has there been any significant two initiatives local agriculture can defend as progress in the industry?
One is forced to ask Paul what has Agrofest achieved since inception. Is it correct the exhibition has been running since 2005? How can the BAS claim that Agrofest is a success and while there is thumping of chests there is no serious commitment to agriculture by the government. There has been no significant improvement on the island to dissuade the thieves. There has been no shift in local taste from foreign to local. The 2016 Draft Estimates show no significant increase in budget allocation. Where is the leadership to highlight questionable pesticides. Are Barbadians happy with Monsanto products being sold and used in Barbados?
BU will listen to the Estimates debate to get a sense of whether agriculture will be prioritized.
Seriously 7,000 tonnes in 2016?
And what is the status of the $250 million Cane Industry Restructuring Project (CHIRP)?