The major thrust in the agricultural sector in Barbados is to reduce the food import bill. Among the issues that hinder the achievement of this goal are, high energy costs, insufficient sector investment, and insufficient human resources involved in production. This all results in a marked reduction in the contribution of agriculture to GDP and an overall low level of food security.

In the area of fisheries, Barbados’ fishing industry, says the FAO, comprises nine main fisheries:

  • shallow shelf reef fishes
  • deep slope fishes
  • coastal pelagic
  • large pelagic
  • flying fish
  • sea urchins
  • turtles (now closed)
  • lobsters
  • conch (seasonal fishing permitted)

The FAO goes on to say that in 2002 flying fish (Hirundichthys affinis) was the most important species for fisheries in Barbados comprising approximately 64% of the total annual landings. The second most important species was dolphin (Coryphaena hippurus) which comprised 22% of the total annual landings.

Barbados is also known for a number of superior quality agro-based products such as:

  • Sugar and rum
  • West Indian Sea Island Cotton
  • Barbados Blackbelly Sheep
  • Barbados cherry

A country report commissioned on behalf of CARICOM indicates that the sugar and rum segments have been receiving attention through restructuring to enhance efficiencies while attempts at the revival of the Barbados Blackbelly Sheep industry, a much-sought after meat and a prominent hair sheep, continue.

Still, on a per capita basis, Barbados imports the most food amongst the countries studied to feed its local and visitor population. Total annual imports of food products averaged USD $315 million between 2010 and 2015 with imports of:

  • beverages and spirits at USD $43 million
  • edible preparations at USD $31 million
  • dairy products, eggs, honey and edible animal preparations averaged at USD $29 million
  • cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations’ averaged at USD $27 million

In the case of fruits, Barbados imports 93% of its requirements.

According to Chapter 3 of Barbados’ Medium Term Development Strategy 2010-2014: “The Agricultural sector has undergone and will continue to undergo significant changes in order to combat the challenges inherent in the domestic and external environment.

On the domestic front, agriculture continues to compete with other sectors for scarce resources such as land, labour and capital.”

This clearly indicates that the agricultural sector will continue to face severe challenges and suggests the continuing need for policy measures aimed at stimulating sector growth. The Country Report commissioned on behalf of CARICOM also noted that in 2013, Barbados developed a Strategic Plan for the transformation of the agricultural sector based on the theme “Food Security” as the current level of food imports was deemed unacceptable by the Minister of Agriculture.

Barbados’ land area is 431 square kilometres (sq. km) with 140 sq. km. available for production. And of this amount, 12,000 hectares are classified as arable. Permanent crops occupy 2.33% of this area and other crops and livestock on 69.77% (2011) with about 5,400 ha or 12% irrigated (2013).

Increasing competitiveness of sugarcane

The sugarcane industry, once a major occupier of arable lands, has been restructured to improve international competitiveness by emphasizing the provision of biomass for the cogeneration of electricity in order to augment the energy supply to the national grid, as well as strengthening linkages with the Tourism/Services sectors.

Cotton, once a vibrant export commodity is now only occupying a small acreage despite the potential to produce high quality cotton.

Overall, the agriculture sector continues to be affected by:

  • adverse weather conditions
  • labour shortages and relatively low labour productivity
  • decreased acreage under cultivation
  • declining yields
  • larceny
  • high cost of inputs and services

Looking to the future with strategic plan

In the National Strategic Plan of Barbados (2005-2025), a series of strategies to enhance the Competitiveness of the Agriculture Sector so that it can compete in both the domestic and international markets and increase output are outlined.

One of the strategies is to restructure and modernise the entire agricultural sector to enhance productivity and product quality, reduce cost and post-harvest losses and create value-added to increase local consumption and export potential. This will be achieved through:

  • The development and revitalisation of the sugar industry, by radically transforming the profile of the local industry from sugar based to sugar cane based production, with emphasis on utilising modern, efficient technology to produce various by-products for export such as, fuel, molasses, branded sugar and specialty sugar, and capitalising on available intellectual property.
  • The development and promotion of the regional integrated cotton industry based on the production and sale of value-added West Indian Sea Island Cotton products to export markets.
  • The development of the food crop sub-sector using measures to increase yields and create value-added through food processing and marketing to facilitate export; in addition to the development of measures to become self-sufficient in the production of tropical vegetables.
  • The development of the livestock sector to increase and satisfy local market demand by instituting measures to ensure: the production and supply of quality, inexpensive feed; a fair price to farmers for their products; the development of value-added products and the quality of local meats.
  • The implementation of a programme for sustainable fisheries development.
  • The integration of new technologies to expand floriculture for export in Barbados
  • The institution of a regulatory system to source the necessary skilled labour and the encouragement of the establishment of service providers for agricultural related labour activities
  • The implementation of a mechanization strategy with a view to reducing per unit costs and increasing on-farm productivity
  • The promotion of manageable forms of multi-farm usage of machinery (such as the establishment of machinery rings to improve the economics of machinery usage)
  • The promotion of modern technologies including hydroponics, green houses, and the utilization of new product varieties

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