|Opening Remarks by Minister of Agriculture at the Seminar on Green Living|
|Written by Mark Byer|
|Thursday, 01 July 2010 15:23|
Opening Remarks by
Senator The Honourable Haynesley Benn,
Minister of Agriculture, at the Seminar on Green Living,
Organic Farming, Foods and Lifestyles on Friday
November 13, 2009 in the Ministry of Agriculture’s
Conference Room at 9:00 a.m.
Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Michael I. King, Permanent Secretary, Mr. Patson Alleyne, Deputy Permanent Secretary,
Organic Farming is an agro-ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and management practices which restore, maintain, and enhance agro-ecological harmony. The Barbados Sustainable Development Policy (2004) and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2002) both promote the utilization of organic agriculture in Barbados. It naturally follows that organic agriculture is in harmony with goal 1, 2 and 3 of this Ministry’s Medium-Term Strategy (2008-2113). These three goals speak to food and nutrition security, agricultural health and safety and promoting sustainable agricultural development. In keeping with our goals and policy initiatives the Food Crops Research Department has decided to jointly host a half-day seminar entitled “Green Living: Organic Farming, Foods and Lifestyles” in collaboration with the Foundations for Living Trust.
The objective of this seminar is to promote healthy living, increase organic agriculture, and demonstrate how the average person could produce and prepare healthy food. This is of particular importance for persons who have a keen interest in pursuing healthy lifestyles and persons battling with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. In addition, this seminar is targeted at persons who simply just want to learn how to produce crops organically. It is of significance in our country’s history and more so, within the context of the cultural transformation that must occur, if we are going to sustainably develop our country. As the food import and agrochemical import bills of Barbados continue to rise, there is a notable increase in non-communicable diseases which are lifestyle oriented. Part of a person’s lifestyle is their eating habits, daily routines or lack of, exercise and activity, relating to the quantity and quality of food consumed and the level of exposure to certain chemicals within our environment.
You have chosen a very important field of endeavour, namely, agriculture, organic food production and consumption. These vital elements will help to maintain a healthy nation in spite of the many obstacles and economic challenges which we face. Organic farming is in harmony with nature and its methods. In principle organically grown produce meet very high safety and cleanliness standards, which makes it a desirable enterprise worthy of pursuit.
A 2007 study of ‘Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems’ revealed that ‘organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.’
If this study is accurate, then there are potentially great advantages towards organic food production and consumption of such foods which can lead to a better quantity or quality of food without compromising the quality of food being produced.
Organic agriculture emerged formally in Europe in the 1940’s. However, it grew in popularity between the 1970’s and 1990’s as a result of an increase in environmental awareness, health consciousness and food borne diseases. Since then it has become one of the largest areas of growth within the agriculture sector worldwide. The global market for organic products reached a value of 38.6 billion US dollars in 2006, with the vast majority of products being consumed in North America and Europe (Organic Monitor, 2007). This constitutes a 5 billion dollar increase in sales and this type of growth is expected to continue. Approximately 31 million hectares are currently managed organically by at least 633,891 farms. The countries with the greatest organic areas are Australia (11.8 million hectares), Argentina (3.1 million hectares), China (2.3 million hectares) and the US (1.6 million hectares) (The World of Organic Agriculture, 2007). This industry in North America alone generates over 14 billion US per annum with an annual growth rate of 18 percent. The world market is expected to reach $46 billion by 2010. We in Barbados must therefore seek to take advantage of similar technologies and benefits, enabling our people to earn a living while promoting healthy lifestyles and assisting in the fight against the non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The Caribbean has within the last ten years slowly embraced organic agriculture and as a result, there are now organic movements across the region. Some of these organic movements within the region include: Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM), Belize Organic Producers Association (BOPA), Trinidad & Tobago Organic Agriculture Movement Ltd (T&T OAM) and the Barbados Organic Growers & Consumers Association (OGCA). A regional body has been set up with the role of developing organic agriculture in the Caribbean. This regional body is known as The Caribbean Regional Organic Agriculture Movement (CROAM). Organic Agriculture in Barbados is still in its infancy and has great potential to be a significant economic earner for Barbados.
Therefore, it is necessary that a proper course is charted for it via a national development plan. In 2004, 16 organic farmers were registered under the Organic Growers and Consumers Association (OGCA) in Barbados, of this, 11 are full-time, 2 are part time and 3 are inactive (OGCA, 2004). The total farm acreage under organic agriculture was approximately 60 acres, of which 35 acres are under cultivation (Bynoe, 2004). The average amount of land under cultivation per farm was 2.06 acres. In 2008, there were 65 registered organic farmers. As a result of limited access to land only 15 farmers are active. The total acreage under organic production has increased to approximately 150 acres. In 2009 this land area fell to approximately 60 acres due to the lost of two large farmers. As in 2004 the majority of the farmers’ focus was primarily on organic crop agriculture. Many of the farmers now have a basic knowledge of the principles of organic agriculture, as it is now a prerequisite for becoming a registered farming member of the OGCA. Attaining knowledge via their own experiences still comprises the major source of knowledge among the organic farming community in Barbados. Although those farmers who have access to the internet can gather a wealth of information on a daily basis as well.
Farm machinery among the local organic farmers is still a limiting factor. Therefore, farmers have to rely heavily on shared machinery among members. Locally organic agronomic research is in the process of being initiated. There are no local organic agronomic crop sheets for organic farmers to refer to as a guideline for growing specific crops. In addition, organic farmers face the problem of not having access to a wide range of organic agrochemicals, weedicides, pesticides and fertilizers. There are no local sources of organic seeds, seedlings, or animal feeds. As a result and to their credit, local organic farmers have devised a set of integrated weed management practices that are commonly used by most farmers. These include manual, mechanical and cultural control. However, the main weed control method remains manual; this is both time consuming and costly. Perhaps this is another area where further research can be applied to resolve and improve this aspect of organic farming.
Currently, most major supermarkets stock processed organic products. There is a demand by supermarkets and retailers for fresh organic produce, but the major limitation is the lack of a consistent contracted supply due to the large quantities demanded. Currently, no organic produce is being exported and the simple reason for this is the lack of farm certification. Without certification from a recognized certifying body, local organic produce would not be accepted as organic on the international market. The National Organic Code of Practice has been established but a certification mechanism has not yet been developed, and this will have to be addressed if we are to reap any benefits in this area on the export market level.
Most of our soils are limestone derived with a large portion having vertisol properties. The high levels of calcium, pH, and other chemical properties induce imbalances in the availability of nutrients to plants. Phosphate, Magnesium, and a number of micronutrients usually require special attention for good plant nutrition to be achieved.
Our topography is largely flat (<5%) and most farms are located in the flatter areas. The slight slope at most locations facilitates drainage. The topography is characterized by depressions. In some of the more recently developed farm lease projects there are sometimes drainage problems on account of the flatness of our island.
The primary goal of our Ministry is to develop local organic agriculture into an organic industry that contributes significantly to the food security of Barbados and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while reducing the dependence on external inputs.
Our Objectives are:
1) To conduct a research program that identifies, adapts, and develops technologies that can be utilized in organic agriculture in Barbados to increase productivity and reduce reliance on external inputs;
2) To facilitate training of organic farmers and technical personnel in the area of organic agriculture;
3) To support other activities that facilitate the development of the industry by collaboration with other institutions and the stakeholders;
These efforts should result in the following outputs:
Organic agriculture offers tremendous opportunities for developing countries like Barbados and within the Caribbean area can contribute substantially to sustainable development. Organic agriculture is considered a viable option for sustainable agriculture in developing countries because it offers a unique combination of low external input technologies, environmental conservation, food security enhancement, climate change mitigation, adaptation capacities, social, economic and health benefits. Indeed, the agro-ecological and socio-economic benefits of organic agriculture have been widely recognized.
It is believed that more sustainable and higher yields per hectare can be achieved in employing organic agriculture techniques, especially in the developing world. Crop yields increased, on average, by 128 per cent in East Africa after conversion to organic. Although it depends on the environment and initial soil quality (yield increases are higher when cultivation was previously on poorly managed and marginal soils), organic production can attain the same yields as conventional agriculture, even in high-yield environments. Biomass availability and the integration of livestock into the agrosystem are also important variables in increasing output. In the arid and semi-arid tropics, considerable yield increases in staple food crops (sorghum, millet, maize, rice) and fruits (mango, citrus) in the context of organic agriculture projects are observed in Asian and African countries. Key to these achievements have been soil fertility management practices such as integrated stall-fed livestock, effective composting systems, introduction of green manure, cover crops and legumes in the rotation, use of bone meal and rock phosphate against phosphorous deficits, localized placement of ash and manure and soil conservation methods.
Improved food security and consistent agriculture production follow as important benefits of organic agriculture. Increases in yields per hectare and income (as shown in the economic benefits section) result in an increased availability of food and more people to purchase food. Levels of food per farm and food per person increase, enhancing food security. Organic farms also produce more efficiently, with more sustainable and stable yields over the long run than conventional agriculture. Improved soil fertility is guaranteed over the long term because of the absence of chemical inputs. Soils on organic farms are also more resistant to water stress, which can ensure crops survive despite recurrent droughts. The diversity of crops usually found on organic farms provides insurance in case of natural or financial threats.
One of the most important benefits provided by certified organic products is related to the ability of producers to access lucrative local and international markets. Organic products are mostly destined for the United States and the EU, with 95 per cent of all organic products sold to these markets. Organics constitute between 1.5 and 2.5 per cent of total food sales in North America and the EU, and up to 5 per cent in Denmark and Switzerland (Willer and Yosseffi 2006). Integrating farmers into the supply chains facilitates access to these markets and can increase profits, enhance predictability (ensuring buyers for agricultural products) and generate higher incomes.
Organic products are sold at a high price premium. Because consumers increasingly want to know that their purchases are produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, they are willing to pay more for products that assure these conditions are met. The UNEP-UNCTAD CBTF studies have documented that organic products garner up to a 300 per cent higher price than conventionally produced goods. These higher prices translate into profits for farmers and other stakeholders in the organic value chain.
The manner in which organic agriculture is pursued also tends to open up employment opportunities, all along the supply chain. Organic agriculture is more labour intensive than conventional agriculture because maintaining soil fertility without using fertilizers requires labour rather than chemical inputs in applying compost and manure and anti-erosion landscaping. The money that farms save by not purchasing expensive agro-inputs allows them to hire more workers. Also, non-farm labour opportunities can emerge, as added-value activities such as processing and packaging create jobs. A University of Cambridge study found that employment opportunities could grow from 10 to 30 percent as a result of conversion and, in 2007, 178,000 jobs in Mexico were created after farmers converted to organic.
In closing, let me encourage you, the participants, to grab hold of the information you will be exposed to during this seminar to increase your knowledge of organic agriculture and its food production. Your knowledge will assist us in preserving and supporting our natural soils, our ecosystem and promote a healthier Barbados in the short and long-term.
I hope you enjoy this seminar while deepening your awareness of our environment and this natural way of farming.
Thank you and may God bless you and today’s proceedings.