The George Brathwaite Column – Agriculture is Vital, and so is our Youth

I am baffled by the national approach or lack thereof when it comes to a struggling agriculture sector and the high incidence of youth unemployment in Barbados. In fact, it was almost seven years ago when the then Barbados Minister of Agriculture, Haynesley Benn, speaking at the Launch of the Youth in Agriculture Programme, ‘Developing Agri-Preneurs’ stated that: “Agriculture is a vital part of our livelihood, contributing to our GDP, foreign exchange earnings, employment, food security and food sovereignty. It has close linkages to tourism and other sub-sectors. Yet, its sustainability is threatened by a number of factors. One significant factor is the lack of interest our youth has in agriculture.”

Now clearly, if in 2009 the Government understood the extent of the problem hampering Barbados with the potential to inhibit social development, it meant that solutions had to be found and programmes implemented. Everyone will agree that agriculture is important to the development of any nation. With Barbados having a high population density and limited land and other natural resources, this nation is even more challenged to cope and find effective solutions.

Therefore, it is important that the youth in Barbados are included not simply as passive participants but as active advocates, planners, and policymakers regarding the linkages to be found between their spaces and agricultural output. At the national level, we have to ask the serious question whether we have done enough to encourage our youth to contribute to agriculture production?

Additionally, has the Government working alone or in partnership with the private sector, provided ample incentives to advance agricultural development with focus on utilising the multi-talents of our youth? Many young people, on a daily basis, are saying that they have grown less inspired under the current administration. They find the dismal circumstances of joblessness unbearable.

Besides, it was the 2011 Draft Youth Policy that revealed the fundamental challenge facing Barbados, pointing on the youth’s desire to know “how to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing, highly competitive global market place.” The fact that globalisation has rendered more porous our borders and opened new avenues for doing business, means that we have to consistently encourage our youth to be involved locally, regionally, and internationally. Indeed, globalisation has brought new opportunities for many workers, especially those who are well educated, and having the skills demanded in the high-tech global economy. This is where Barbados’ food security and agriculture sector need to be expanded.

Nonetheless, globalisation has deepened insecurity and poverty for many others, including large numbers of our young people. Unfortunately, several of our young people do not have either the skills needed to compete or the means to acquire them. Providing our youth with work that is satisfying and the potential for earning decent incomes are paramount, even if this work is cast as a poverty-reduction strategy. To follow the established practice of talk and more talk, or to do little or nothing is a dereliction of duty. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has to halt the drift, and the Ministry of Agriculture must encourage youth participation in the sector.

It is fairly easy to accept that since the 2008 change of government in Barbados, there were several factors inclusive of recession that would have negatively impacted young people in dire need of work. The number of formal jobs available to young people became lesser as the DLP frustrated over the common sense of imposing higher and more draconian taxes in recessionary years.

We know from literature in the western world that the main struggle of young people is “to enter and remain in the labour market” and that, globally, “young people are three times more likely than adults to be out of a job.” It is not surprising then that over the last eight years in Barbados, rising unemployment in both the private and public sectors have hurt the prospects for the youth and more broadly, for the agricultural sector. Barbados achieved little or no economic growth between 2008 and 2016; and social and economic stagnation have held permanent resident status under the DLP in Barbados, thus inducing increased poverty.

Young people have been forced into the informal sector. While the informal sector is not necessarily a bad thing, there must still be the assistance provided by the state and its agencies for encouraging the development of entrepreneurial talents among young people. Instead of hundreds of acres of land at Pool, Wakefield, Todds and many other plantations laying idle or overgrown with bush and cow itch, young people can be allowed to set up teams working in a programme of ownership and enterprise. The young people can lease and bring these lands back into the cultivation of food crops.

Focussing on one solution will not bring wholesale success, but it may effectively contribute to achieving employment generation and inclusive growth within the economy. Entrepreneurship still persists in the psyche of Barbadians as an unwanted insecurity that is likely to incur too many unbearable risks. Clearly, both government and the private sector have definitive roles to play so that we do not fail our young people. We can ill afford to sacrifice our food security given the inherent challenges faced by small island developing states (SIDS).

Writing in a popular development journal, Professor Alice Amsden contends that: “To slay the dragon of poverty, deliberate and determined investments in jobs above starvation wages must play a central role, whether for self-employment or paid employment.” The implied significance of this statement is far-reaching, especially in the context that young people in Barbados are still struggling in 2016 to find and keep decent work.

Barbados’ agricultural sector has been left stranded by lack of imagination and idea-deficiency from the policymakers. What should have been a happy and rewarding marriage between opportunities in agriculture and job creation appears permanently fractured. In addition, the private sector is not sufficiently encouraged to maximise on youthful resources. There has to be an injection of urgency in responding to the needs of our young people and to redress the plight of agriculture.

Private sector development – formal and informal – has an important role to play in poverty reduction. The private sector, including small enterprises, creates and sustains the jobs necessary for poor people to work and earn the income needed to purchase goods and services. Small enterprise development contributes to poverty reduction when it creates employment and job creation provides income to the poor. The key contention is that agriculture is vital to our survival, and so is our youth.

(Dr. George C. Brathwaite is a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua). Email: )

39 thoughts on “The George Brathwaite Column – Agriculture is Vital, and so is our Youth

  1. An excellent article and if one were to look at some of the individuals in this govt/party we will see a number of them who ” knew” what to do to carry agriculture forward,who had a lot of ideas as to how to develop our youth and in order to achieve their objectives all they needed was to take over the reigns of govt.

    The excuses all center around lack of money,readily ignoring the groundwork that was established by NGOs in the area of sourcing international funding from Aid agencies.

    What was typical was ignoring the 25 year Ag. plan that was developed by the previous govt. again the fact that this was achieved through consultation with NGOs and individual farmers,was of no import.

    Committees were once established for.. Agro-Eco-Tourism…,….Scotland District(Bread basket of Bim),…,…Community Youth with the RBPF….,to name a few……..we too love to re-invent the wheel.

  2. George,
    Two masters at that School on Society Plantation in St. John, Fab Hoyos and David Pope,used to impress on us students of History and English respectively that we should write so that the average school boy of 14 years could understand what we mean to say. I am sure your article had some very useful ideas but I had to think too hard. This is one reason why the young people are not convinced that Agriculture is a viable and useful occupation.

  3. But it goes deeper than this. The amount of verbal outpourings that link agriculture to slavery,the unfair sharing of the monetary value of the output between the producers of agricultural output and the marketers, the disrespect of thieves for the labour of the farmers etc are enough reasons why no intelligent young man or woman would want to work or invest in agriculture. Change these infrastructures of agriculture and it will take off.

  4. BC, your 11.03 post sums up all I have written here about agriculture for eight years.

    Agriculture has been demonised by every gov’t since independence. It is blamed for the oppression of our people and has never been treated as an opportunity. Every person who has invested in land for the purpose of farming since WW2 has been labelled as ‘massa’, regardless of race, nationality and family history.

    Now sugar production is gone and with it the rotational crops, drainage management, insect and rodent management, apprenticeship schemes and general rural management of the island.

    Livestock agriculture is easier for novices and requires less land and stock investment but is much more prone to theft, a constant complaint of small farmers. Disease is also a larger problem.

    One thing is for sure, the single thing the agriculture sector has no shortage of is land, lease rates have not increased for 25 years.

    Now we just need a leader with vision, a greater challenge than any we have ever faced.

  5. Whatever happened to the White Paper on Agriculture prepared by Dr. Chelston Brathwaite. A document quoted in May 2012 by the Ministry of Agriculture as being “the first step in a process that will lead to the transformation and repositioning of the agricultural sector in Barbados.”

    According to a story in the Nation Newspaper dated Wed, November 27, 2013 reporting on comments made by Minister Estwick the paper said:
    “The minister told the country today that a White Paper on Agriculture, which should be going before Cabinet soon,…….”

    That was November 2013. This is July 2016. Maybe Dr. Brathwaite, the Minister, the Ministry or someone would be kind enough to send a copy to BU or make it publicly available?

  6. @Bernard Codrington

    Thanks, but an 11 year old alerted me to your comment and she said that she found no difficulty in reading and understanding. But I take your point given the results that we have been saying in English Language and English Literature.
    The point however is not that there are not certain things to be done including what you mentioned, but there must also be the definitive move to have the youth actively participate in their survival, in their food security, in their empowerment, etc.
    But as usual, I cherish your comments in helping the discussion to proceed.

  7. Educate young people from grade school to equate farming with feeding themselves for their survival and their own food security. They educate the young about all the wrong things, by the time the kids reach the end of high school, they do not want to hear about farming.

  8. I have been amazed for many years at how the Government continued to sell off the land all in the name of MODERN DEVELOPMENT. But seemed to forget that the people in Barbados NEEDED to continue developing plans regarding AGRICULTURE. I couldn’t understand how people no longer seem to care where the food comes from. When it can be grown in your own back yard BARBADOS. I have always had a problem with the Government putting all their eggs in one basket..TOURISM; Please don’t get me wrong. But some of that money is NEEDED in the training for the younger generation,or anyone for that matter who has the desire to continue building more power for Barbados trough AGRICULTURE; If the youth has nothing to do. As the old saying:- “The devil will find work for idle hands;” The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and the OLD FASHION WAY needs to be removed, and LISTEN to the up and coming leaders. I don’t think that any elected official should be allowed to serve more than two terms in any elected position. Making this a lifetime job leaves NO ROOM for any others to add NEW LIFE; Just my view. I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes;
    One thing that the Government, and the people should keep constantly in mind when it come to growing most of your own crops. This way you know what you are getting, and how it was grown. With all the imports you can be getting produce that’s creating health issues.

  9. Over the years the politicians and leaders of this country have seen it fit to address the subject of Agriculture to the young people,only during those occasions when they are called upon to make speeches at some rural schools, whether its Grantley Adams Secondary or Ignatius Byer Primary.
    Like the Barbados that they have systematically divided into two, they, along with a great
    many Barbadians, have similarly divided the education system .
    After 50 years of independence, we still harbour the same thoughts we did, during the colonial era. If you do not “learn at school” , then learn a trade or ” fly a steel kite”.
    And we are wondering why many young people are not interested in agriculture, or from the recent application for Work Permits, or of learning a trade.
    Any discussion on Agriculture, thanks to the present minister and gurus , should come under the heading of Post Mortem or Spilt Milk.

  10. Some years ago one of the biggest land owners and construction magnates in Barbados stated that all of the food needed to satisfy Barbadians, could be adequately grown in green houses.
    Todate , we have not seen many of those green houses, but what we have seen ,are thousands of white and multi-coloured houses that have mushroomed on the same lands, all across the island, which used to provide Barbadians with food.

  11. Hants July 19, 2016 at 12:42 PM #
    When our politicians go overseas on the peoples business, on their return they do not utter a single word to the people. The dog dead there. Thanks to you , this is the first time that I am seeing this .
    Will it work in Barbados? Not until the vexed question of praedial larceny is dealt with positively to protect the farmers, instead of all the promises and lip service that they now receive from the very people who are hailing this Guyana project, a Caribbean Wonder.
    We keep spinning top in mud, in spite of the long drought.

  12. The problem of agriculture goes deep. We have built and have to fuel a consumption behaviour by the population moulded by external influencers.

  13. and when that day comes that the youth would ever want to work hard and toil in the sun to earn a living let me know.
    this technological age demands more with all its advantages and disadvantages , the youth those who stay in school and reach a high level of education would hardly want to apply their educational knowledge to farming

  14. Successful farming requires a high level of education. It is these uninformed comments similar to AC’s that encourage the alienation from food production and food security. As far as I know man has always lived in a technological age. Planting sugar cane in a cane hole was agricultural technology. Grafting fruit trees is technology. Genetic modification of sweet potatoes and yams is technology. Technology is not robotics alone.

    • In developed countries across the globe agriculture and farming is highly regarded and respected.

  15. sir i will not engage in the art of semantics everything is borne out of some aspect of technology so stop trying to be a smart a,ss reacting in a condescending manner to a simple equation of modern day technology which has given man the ability to operate at a faster speed and accomplish more
    Farming still depends on the elements for viable productivity and profitability very few of the youth would have the patience even with technological input to endure any losses due to weather related problems which can be a major set back and contributes to millions of dollars annually to the small farmer,

  16. yes farming is a science and it is also a way of life for the farmer and a farmer has to be innovative and always on the look out for taste and trends that are appealing to the consumer todays consumer is mostly interest in a healthier lifestyle, which makes farming more costly to produce and less profitable
    the youth are not stupid they have the availability to access knowledge and if they believe that farming was a financially worthwhile adventure there would be a greater level of interest in agriculture on their behalf , however the reality being that farming has lost the financial attractiveness it once enjoyed and most of the benefits which once made farming appealing

  17. Some years ago, I visited a manufacturer in the Dakotas. Traveling between plants, the man whom I was traveling with, a Design Engineer with this company which manufactures and exports equipment all across the globe, told me that he is taking two weeks away from the job………………….to reap crops on his small farm.

  18. Ac you have understood the point. Very often it is good to condescend. It is called humility. There is nothing wrong in working in the hot sun to earn an honest dollar , to contribute to the food security of Barbados and to earn and save foreign exchange. These are worthy contributions to the society which we want to build.My point is that the workers in this sector should be suitably recompensed and respected.

  19. Quite a few primary schools in Barbados expose their young charges to basic agriculture,but when they move on to the vast majority of secondary schools, many of these children, and their parents, adopt the ” I ain’t send school my child to pick up paper ” syndrome.

  20. David July 19, 2016 at 8:52 PM #
    In developed countries across the globe agriculture and farming is highly regarded and respected.

    And subsidised.

    CBC costs Barbados $70 million per year to employ 100 people to produce nothing.

    Sugar cane subsidies to 30,000 tonne production level would cost $50 million per year and employ 1,000 people while guaranteeing rotation crop food security.

    The problem with agriculture is political and cultural, not financial.

    • @Frustraed Businessman

      A very accurate statement.

      Arthur did sell his mantra about Barbados needing to be a service economy. It is interesting that George who is making an attempt to run on a BLP ticket is singing the we need agriculture tune. Funny how everything always come full circle.

  21. @ David

    I was born and raised into agriculture. Agriculture has many aspects and components. Do not start with Arthur and his mantra without the requisite context. We keep splitting hairs, but to what end. Yes, things do ‘come full circle’ but cycles have always been present in human existence based on history. Nonetheless, it is good that awareness is being seen. Still a bit too narrow when we only see agriculture from the perspective of ‘farming’ without considering all the other elements that go into the enterprise.

  22. David July 20, 2016 at 6:52 AM #
    @Frustraed Businessman

    A very accurate statement.

    Arthur did sell his mantra about Barbados needing to be a service economy. It is interesting that George who is making an attempt to run on a BLP ticket is singing the we need agriculture tune. Funny how everything always come full circle.

    I guarantee that none of the 100 people fired from CBC, when a leader with sense gives it to the best bidder to save the financial haemorrhage, would apply for a job in agriculture.

    • @George

      You have declared your intention to run for political office therefore, like Walter, expect to field the hard questions. What was your position when Arthur, Mascoll et al were pushing the service economy message?

  23. As far as I recall, Arthur, Mascoll, Thompson, Sandiford,Tom Adams, Errol Barrow – none of these ever suggested that Barbados ought to totally rely on the service industry, although they all indicated that services would be the largest revenue earner for Barbados. I still am convinced that a diversified service industry will (or can) continue to generate most of the national income. However, I will suggest that we have to explore all of the arteries that are embedded in the agriculture industry inclusive of new technologies, processing, and other hi-tech spin-offs. For me, it is not about being right or wrong, but it is us going beyond the traditional and to do things that will engender food security and a strong sense that there is much earning potential in the very arteries inclusive research and development, management, event planning (because there will be exhibitions and conferences), fish farming, livestock farming and the list goes on and on.
    Hence, I am not afraid of the hard questions. But I would hate that so important an issue is made a political football situated between B or D when there is we to consider.

  24. GB u can convince self of many things until the facts and truths and realities seen is placed close up in your face mounted on the predictions of a global economy.
    Most small island nations are suffering from the outflow of larger economies who have a wider competitive edge making the small economies margin of profitabilty in agriculture very small
    Tell me what can barbados export in agriculture that is not found in any small or large market around the world
    The only saving grace for small nation economies is the organic market which has generated much interest and seem to have a long term and sustainable impact on consumer spending the meanwhile small nations would have to revisit or revamp agriculture in order to remain relevant

  25. George C. Brathwaite July 20, 2016 at 11:04 AM #
    However, I will suggest that we have to explore all of the arteries that are embedded in the agriculture industry inclusive of new technologies, processing, and other hi-tech spin-offs.

    And that is what the Australian farmer Tim Walsh was engaged in,at his Nature Produce farm in St Peter, when he was, more or less, ran off the island by the local Land for Houses mafia, after investing some $3Millions on the project. Things like this deter many locals from investing in agriculture.

    • @George

      Don’t understand your position about avoiding the political argument because all must agree that the agriculture policy or lack of is rooted in decisions taken by the political class.

  26. Hants July 19, 2016 at 12:42 PM #
    Who is responsible for creating Agricultural enterprises in Barbados?

     Meanwhile we are still waiting for the 40 acres of agricultural land at Dukes ,St Thomas , gifted to the University of the West Indies in Sept 2013 by the owner of Dukes Plantation,Eddie Edghill. Who will work this land . UWI students seeking a Degree? 

    ” The land is to be used to establish a Centre for Food Security and Entrepreneurship,and according to Principal Sir Hilary Beckles, put Barbados on the way to finally achieving food security,and at the same time training young Barbadians who remain connected to one of the countrys most important sectors.” (Nation )
    Barbados is awash with Wordsmiths and not enough Blacksmiths.

  27. Perhaps we could look at implementing a system along the lines of Israel’s Kubitz, to get young and interested people into agriculture . We have plantation houses going to rot. Cable and Wireless has a sprawling derelict complex in the heart of the agriculture belt at Boarded Hall in St George Valley, that would be ideal for such a venture. They also have another, adjacent to the semi abandoned Bath Plantation.

The blogmaster dares you to join the discussion.