Recently, here in Grenada, there has been some talk from the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant bodies about plans to expand the production of Cassava. Similarly, over the last eighteen months or so, key operatives in the Barbados Ministry of Agriculture have been proposing the same thing.
The Barbadians have given a number of reasons for trying to find more competitive ways of managing their country’s cassava industry. These include (1) the intention to use cassava as a substitute for some other imported starches; (2) getting people suffering from diabetes to use cassava rather than other starches. They point out that cassava is a gluten free product and the starch from it, unlike other starches, does not break down easily to produce sugar; (3) cassava can be used as a substitute for imported corn in animal feed.
Barbados has an animal feed industry. Additionally, at present, the Barbadians boast that they are producing flour from cassava. The Barbadians also claim that at the moment they have one hundred acres of land under cassava cultivation, and they plan to substantially increase the amount of land, used to cultivate the crop. How many acres of land do we have in Grenada planted with cassava? How many more acres of land are we planning to cultivate with this important crop.
I suspect that if you ask questions like these to key operatives in our Ministry of Agriculture, they will not be able to provide answers for them, which is evidence of the severe lack of direction that has plunged our economic endeavours over the last two decades or so.
I suspect too many Grenadians for some time now have been wondering with “patriotic displeasure, why I continue to be so pre-occupied with developments in Barbados. These people sadly will not have come to accept that it is vital for our socio-economic development and the maintenance of our independence that we step out from the narrow insular world that we have constructed around us over time, and familiarise oursevles with current economic, social and educational trends, regionally and globally.
If we continue to mentally imprison ourselves by this tragic ancient insularity, which we really cannot afford, we in Grenada and the wider Caribbean will continue to linger on the path of underdevelopment.
And sensible people in Grenada should be asking themselves these questions: Why is it that today Barbados is ahead of us in this matter of Cassava production? Why is it that the Jamaicans can boast, as they did recently, that they have cut down their food import bill by new initiatives taken in Agriculture, and we cannot make similar claims? Why are so many of us sitting so comfortably on our present tragic lack of food security? Why is it that there is so much talk of suffering and starvation in the land, we seem incapable of organising our agricultural industry to more adequately feed ourselves?
Indeed, as a prominent Caribbean writer remarked some time ago, even during slavery, we had a more enlightened view of our resources and a greater sense of self-reliance.
It is not too difficult to realise that it was as slaves that people of African descent learnt to judge the soil quality of the Caribbean; it was as slaves that we learnt to select, store and preserve seeds and to cultivate and harvest crops. Today, for reasons that are not entirely clear, we have lost many of the varieties of crops and strains of domestic animals that were bequeathed to us by our fore-parents.
For decades, our fore-parents efficiently conserved and cultivated certain varieties of corn, pigeon peas, sweet potato, cassava, sorrel, ochro, melongene, tomato, ginger, etc and reared certain strains of goats, pigs, sheep, domestic fowls and cows, most of which we have conspired to lose. As a consequence, nowadays we are often engaged in the worrying trend of substantially buying imported seeds.
Furthermore, while the plants we inherited from our parents, gave us healthy and durable crops, the expensive imported seeds which are often genetically modified, produce crops which go bad rather too quickly.
Yet Grenadians continue to have a superstitious belief in imported seeds, which prevent us from attempting to produce those more suitable for our climate and soils: something we can do if we really had a mind to. For instance, in what is now a rare occurrence here, a local farmer I know has for years now been planting a variety of pigeon peas, which he says his father brought from Trinidad in the early 1950’s. This is a high yielding variety, which produces large seeds.
Indeed, our present attitude towards conserving seeds and domestic animals is inextricably linked to our decline in agriculture over the years.
Often, Barbadians and our other Caribbean people do things that, not only give me pleasure but also genuine hope. Our of these is the launching of the Youth in Agriculture Programme by the Barbados Ministry of Agriculture at the beginning of May.