A few weeks ago Grenada’s Economic Advisor Dr. Patrick Antoine, speaking on a weekly radio programme made the controversial point that we should stop pinning grandiose hopes on agriculture as the panacea to the country’s economic aspirations.
Dr. Antoine, as is to be expected drew some considerable flak from the public for this observation since many assumed that the economist was advocating the abandonment of agriculture as an important pursuit and positing that Grenadians should take a more nonchalant approach to this age old cultural and economic activity.
On closer analysis though, it is hardly likely that Dr. Antoine is pooh poohing the importance of agriculture in our country or any country for that matter but simply facing a fact that many are reluctant to face.
He was most likely drawing attention to the host of challenges to making agriculture a significant foreign exchange earner in Grenada given the difficulty in competing on the global market.
Grenada’s cost of production for one would be daunting and impact our global competitiveness. Then there is our production capacity, reliability and product quality as demanded by the overseas market compared to bigger countries with far more land space, technology and production capacity.
It has long been advocated that for Grenada to compete on the global market as far as agriculture is concerned, we must identify a niche and work toward taking advantage of that niche market.
That being said however, there is no reason whatsoever to pay any less attention to agriculture as the ability to feed ourselves as an independent country remains a very desirable goal.
Many experts continue to make it clear that we should first and foremost focus on producing enough high quality food to feed our citizens rather than making export the focus of our activities. However in addition to producing the food we have to convince our citizens to choose locally produced food over imported ones.
The question is have we as a government and people been doing sufficient to enhance agricultural production and encourage the consumption of locally produced foods?
Delivering the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2017 last December, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell confirmed, “agriculture is the bedrock of our economy and we cannot seriously talk about food and nutrition security without addressing the fundamental challenges in our agriculture, agro processing, fisheries and forestry sector.”
Thing is, these “fundamental challenges” are the same ones we have been mentioning and grappling with for many years now and seem to be getting nowhere.
The prime minister mentioned, “the training of staff in a range of agricultural disciplines such as rainwater harvesting techniques, composting and soil management and root crop production;
the provision of tools, vehicles and equipment to strengthen the Praedial Larceny Programme to support the hard working farmers of this country…
These are very real and genuine concerns and it is encouraging to know that the government recognizes them and intends to address them. However those involved in the sector especially the farmers, would welcome some recognizable progress in that regard rather than hearing about them whenever the budget is presented.
It is still important for the government to encourage increased agricultural production as it continues to do. It is also important for farmers who do agriculture as a business that their produce is sold when it is produced.
The Grenada Marketing and National Importing Board, GMNIB has been announcing over the last couple of years that it been purchasing much more produce from farmers; very good news. However there have also been reports of tonnes of spoiled items being dumped at Perseverance by the GMNIB.
This indicates that while the board is purchasing more from the farmers, consumers are not necessarily purchasing and eating more local food and that is something we have to find a strategy to remedy. It doesn’t make much sense being all smug about purchasing more from farmers if it is destined for the dump anyway.
Further, how would we convince consumers in a foreign country to purchase our produce if we cannot convince Grenadians to use them?
Agricultural production is still critically important but so is a sustained drive to encourage Grenadians to consume local food such as has been done in places like Brazil and Colombia. Both these countries have instituted extensive programmes to encourage local consumption and now they have thriving agricultural export sectors.
In that regard the MNIB is on the right track with its school initiative to utilize local fruits and vegetables to enhance the health of our students.