Saturday, April 20, 2024

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: A crying shame

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I HAD INTENDED to report on the very interesting and informative Dialogue On Participatory Governance I attended two weeks ago, but a number of disturbing happenings diverted my attention to the continuing sad plight of agriculture.

Of course, it was World Food Day this month and – surprise, surprise! – the Government has announced another plan – this time a Food And Nutrition Security Policy And Action Plan soon to be submitted to Cabinet.

Of course, in 2012 the Ministry of Agriculture was reportedly preparing a White Paper on the food and agricultural sector of Barbados, which would “seek to situate the food and agriculture sector as one of the pillars of Barbados’ development”. About a year later it was to have been presented to Parliament in the “upcoming weeks”, after which it would be made available to the public. I could be wrong but I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing anything further about that document or about any follow-up action. So why am I not excited about this new plan?

In November 2013 the ministry launched its  Food Zone pilot project, said to be a milestone project and supported by the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. It was to “strengthen the food security position of Barbados by empowering farming communities to adequately respond to market requirements”. I would be surprised if any farmer could report having benefited significantly from it – again, I don’t recall any documented results being made available to the public. Maybe someone can remind me how much money has been spent on this project to date.

Similarly, in 2012 the Canada-funded PROPEL project appeared on the scene, apparently aimed at “linking fresh fruit and vegetables produced by small farmers in the participating countries to established buyers across the region”. An office was set up in Barbados and I actually met with some of the persons involved. Then earlier this year a memorandum of understanding was reportedly signed by Minister McClean. PROPEL was in the news again a week or so ago. But what has been the output? How have farmers in Barbados benefited?

I have long since questioned the allocation of funds in these internationally funded projects, i.e. how much is allocated to actual tangible assistance to farmers and how much to administration, offices and travel. Are these funding agencies satisfied with glossy reports or they really interested in true assistance to farmers?

But while all this talk about food security is going on, our established farmers as well as those attempting to enter the industry have had enough. Resilient though they may be, they are at their wit’s end with impossible land prices, theft and dog attacks, not to mention monkey damage. But we continue to see no action. A few nights ago, we heard the Prime Minister talk about this elusive upgraded legislation to control crop and livestock theft. What’s new?

Some time ago the ministry had the brilliant idea that farmers should erect signs saying “trespassers will be prosecuted”. Apparently this would somehow deter the thieves. Well, it’s said that even the signs are being stolen. How much longer are farmers expected to endure this scourge? It’s a crying shame!

I suggested that our Defence Force, which did such sterling rescue work in Dominica, be called in to assist. They could use real-life situations in their manoeuvres, which would assist the farmers and at the same time improve their skill – the red tape would never allow that.

Ironically, in the midst of all this food security talk, we’ve lost one of our best and most innovative and technologically advanced farmers, Mr Tim Walsh. He’s not Barbadian-born, but is probably more loyal, proactive and hard-working than most of us. He doesn’t just talk, he does.

The judgment of the Caribbean Court of Justice on the land his farm occupies is reportedly in favour of Mr Bjorn Bjerkhamn. This has brought Mr Walsh’s operation to a halt. Seeing that Mr Bjerkhamn is not known to be involved in agriculture, it will be interesting to see the use to which this agricultural land will be put . . . And we continue to talk about food security? What a joke!

Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email fchandler@caribsurf.com.

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