|Address by the Minister of Agriculture at the Seminar on Organic Farming|
|Written by Mark Byer|
|Friday, 02 July 2010 10:24|
Address by Senator, the Hon. Haynesley Benn,
Minister of Agriculture on the Opening of the
Seminar on Organic Farming to be held in the
Ministry of Agriculture’s Conference Room
on March 16, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.
Mr. Master of Ceremonies, Permanent Secretary, Chief Agricultural Officer, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Deputy Chief Agricultural Officer’s Representatives from Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations Development Programme, Organic Growers and Consumers Association, Barbados Community College, Specially Invited Guest, Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am particularly pleased to address you this morning at this seminar which is a second in a series of seminars where the objectives are designed to promote healthy living, increase organic agriculture and demonstrate how the average persons can produce and prepare healthy organic food.
I note with interest that the seminar seeks to target persons who have a keen interest in pursuing healthy lifestyles; persons who were diagnosed with chronic non-communicable diseases, for example diabetes, hypertension and cancer as well as those persons whose main focus is to learn how to produce crops organically.
This seminar is timely and I am extremely happy to highlight the focus on food and nutrition security; agricultural health and safety; as well as the promotion of sustainable agricultural development. The emphasis is in keeping with the Ministry of Agriculture’s goal to contribute to the food and nutrition security of the nation through the production of nutritious foods at reasonable prices on a consistent basis.
Approximately fifty (50) participants have been invited to attend this seminar and I would like to express my appreciation to the organisers. At its conclusion, you the participants should be have been empowered with essential organic production knowledge and you would have been provided with a holistic view of organic farming, foods and lifestyles.
During the last three decades, as our citizens became increasingly health conscious, more aware of the environment and the presence of food borne diseases, organic agriculture grew in popularity. Today, it is now one of the largest areas of growth within the agricultural sector worldwide. The global market for organic products has exceeded US$50 billion in 2009. This industry in the United States of America is generating over US$14 billion per annum with an annual growth rate of eighteen percent.
In the Caribbean, this method of farming is slowly taking root. Within the last ten (10) years, organic movements have been formed across the region, presently in Jamaica, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. In Barbados, organic farming is in its infancy and developmental stage.
Given the success of organic farming, it is important that we explore and exploit its benefits which offer tremendous opportunities for developing countries such as Barbados. Organic agriculture can contribute substantially to food security enhancement and climate change mitigation. There are also social, economic and health benefits to be derived. In addition, organic agriculture is viewed as a viable option for sustaining the agricultural sector in developing countries.
Organic farming can be described as an agro-ecological production management system that promotes and enhances bio-diversity, 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 along with management practices that restore, maintain and improve agro-ecological harmony.
Given that Barbados is a small island developing state, the island is vulnerable to natural disasters, its economy is open with a high level of dependency on imports; there is dominance of a single commodity in the agricultural sector; high cost and uncompetitive production systems; limited production with limited technological and financial capacity to respond to major challenges.
There is no doubt that recent events have forcefully reinforced the need for a comprehensive food security programme which would ensure that Barbados is able to feed its population at all times – through domestic production and goods produced and imported by our CARICOM neighbours.
The Ministry of Agriculture, therefore, will continue to place great emphasis on ensuring that the country has access to safe, nutritious and affordable food to meet dietary needs and food preferences for healthy living.
The promotion of organic farms is one such avenue for achieving food security. More sustainable and higher yields per hectare can be achieved by employing organic agricultural techniques especially in developing countries like ours. This has been proven in East Africa where crop yields increased by 128 percent after conversion to organic. Biomass availability and the integration of livestock into the agro system have also resulted in increased output. However, it must be stressed that the key to these achievements have been soil fertility management practices such as effective composting systems, introduction of green manure, localized placement of ash and manure and soil conservation methods to name a few. As the agriculture production increases consistently, this is translated into higher income for farmers and other stakeholders in the industry.
Organic agriculture also has the potential for employment opportunities. This type of agriculture is more labour intensive than conventional agriculture. If the fertility of the soil is to be maintained without the use of conventional fertilizers, then labour instead of chemical inputs must be employed to apply compost, manure and anti-erosion landscaping. The money that is saved by the farms as a result of not buying expensive agro-inputs, permit management to employ more workers. Again as the produce is processed and packaged, more employment is generated. Research has shown that in Mexico, 178,000 jobs have been created after farmers converted to organic (UNEP 2009).
Organic products are sold at a higher premium, the reason being that once the consumers are satisfied that their purchases were produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, they are willing to pay the higher price. Once, more the higher price redounds to the benefit of farmers and other stakeholders.
As we are aware our society has been confronted by chronic non-communicable disease and there are health benefits to be derived from the use of organic foods. Organic crops and livestock are not genetically modified and no antibiotics were used. Organic food must satisfy standard requirements before a certificate can be issued. Hence, the consumers can be assured that the quality of the products is good for human consumption. Again, with the exclusion of detrimental pesticides the employees’ health risks are considerable reduced.
In Barbados sixty-five organic farmers were registered under the Organic Growers and Consumers Association (OGCA), of these only fifteen are active. These farmers cultivate approximately sixty (60) acres of land and the majority of them focus primarily on organic crop agriculture. The Association’s aim is to increase membership as well as the acreage of land under organic production in its quest to satisfy the growing demand for organic food.
Organic agriculture is confronted by some challenges. There is inadequate machinery to serve the farmers. Consequently, the farmers have to share the limited machinery, this has a negative impact as the farmers have long waiting periods before gaining access to the limited available farming equipment.
Also prior to March 2010, there was an absence of local organic agronomic crop sheets. This meant no guidelines were available to the farmers with respect to the growing of specific crops. I am pleased to report that the Ministry of Agriculture carried out research on various aspects of organic crop production and from March crop sheets will now be accessible to organic farmers. Farmers are also constrained by being unable to obtain a wide range of agro-chemicals, weedicides, pesticides and fertilizers. In addition, there are no consistent commercial sources of organic seeds, seedling or animal feed available locally.
The farmers have devised means to surmount some of the challenges. They have implemented a set of integrated weed management practices which most of them use. Such measures include manual, mechanical and cultural control.
Ladies and gentlemen, among the Ministry’s long term strategies for agriculture and in its quests to improve food security, is the development of local organic agriculture into an organic industry; the objective being, to contribute to food security and the Gross Domestic Product while reducing the dependence on external inputs.
In an effort to achieve the aforementioned, the Ministry will conduct a research programme which will identify, adapt and develop technologies to be used in organic agriculture in Barbados. It has been recognized that training and education are integral to the development of an organic industry and to this end training of organic farmers as well as technical personnel in organic agriculture is being undertaken.
Ladies and gentlemen, the organic agricultural industry holds great potential for Barbados. We must seize the moment and do all that we can to transform the industry into a vibrant one.
I wish you a productive and educational seminar.