The New Today


Opportunities for agricultural diversification in Grenada: Part 2

Following is Part 2 of the article, which started last week on the above subject matter

There are several aspects or characteristics affecting the modernisation and maximisation of yields and income from agriculture in Grenada. Most, if not all of them, are in fact interconnected:

(a) Economies of scale in agricultural production in Grenada. Because of the overall size of the country, opportunities for achieving the benefits from scale-economies are close to non-existent, and this influences what should be produced, of what quality, and with which markets in mind.

(b) The magnitude of the alienation of arable land from agriculture, especially where large concrete structures have been put up (as an example, the 900-acre Hope Estate, now unofficially called “Hope City”) has had the effect of reducing the potential output from a revived agricultural sector, as well as further exacerbating the scale-economies limitations already existing.

(c) Land Fragmentation through generations of inheritance (in a country which does not practice the primogeniture system of inheritance) has further restricted the possibilities for even medium-scale production in most of the country’s landholdings.

(d) Grenada’s topography, with very little flat or gently sloping land, has had its effects on what has been grown, the scale of the operation, the ability to use machinery except in limited ways, and generally the application of even late-20th century technology, not to mention 21st century technology.

(e) Soil erosion has also been a factor, especially given the limited application of terracing both to more efficiently use significantly sloping land, and to reduce soil erosion. The cutting down of forests and wooded areas for the burning of coals by people of limited financial means has also contributed heavily to this problem; in addition to any negative effects on annual rainfall. This has particularly affected Carriacou, going back several decades.

(f) The extremely low level of labour productivity in Grenada’s agriculture as a result of low level of technology employed; a culture of agri-“culture” instead of one associated with agri-“business” on the part of most farmers, even the largest; the paucity of application of relevant research and development by Grenada’s farmers generally (certainly the failure to fully utilise the agronomic and other breakthroughs achieved by regional and international research and development institutions); low levels of compensation (wages and other benefits ) to workers in agriculture, which has been and is still de-motivating for the current workforce, and a disincentive to young people contemplating agriculture as a career option. Hence Grenada’s agricultural workforce – both the workers and the small farmers – tend to exceed by many years the average age of the working population of the country; low or non-existent training opportunities for the agricultural workforce.

(g) Access to credit is another obstacle facing many in farming communities.

(h) Marketing for non-traditional crops remains a challenge despite the work of the Marketing and National Import Board (MNIB).

(i) Given all the above circumstances, acquiring organic farming technology, along with taking appropriate measures to mitigate the other challenging features of Grenada’s agriculture on a much larger scale than presently (for example, terracing), would greatly assist in earning higher incomes, as certified organic agricultural products attract increasing sales globally, and receive premium prices.

The way forward for Grenada’s agriculture has to be based on several strategic initiatives that involve:

(a) Targeting high value-added Niche Markets for high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs.

(b) Strategic Alliances with regional and extra-regional partners who can offer appropriate modern technology (machinery, planting, nurturing, reaping and packaging techniques) which can quickly raise labour productivity and hence farmers’ incomes and agricultural workers’ wages; access to distribution networks of niche markets; agro-processing of food products of high quality and value; industrial-processing of agricultural output manufactured into cosmetics, toiletries, medicines, supplements, and even products used in industries for other purposes; developing Inter-Sectoral Linkages between agriculture and tourism, in particular.

The goal in all of this is to systematically move Grenada’s agriculture up the “food chain”, so as to reap most of the benefits which others now take for themselves, from commodities that Grenadians grow. An example of this is the extraordinary range of high-value products manufactured from Grenada’s (and other countries’) cocoa; likewise, Grenada’s nutmegs and mace.

Further, there should be degree programmes at the T.A. Marryshow Community College and the UWI’s Open Campus in Grenada, in various aspects of agricultural production, technological innovations, processing, marketing, and so on.

Other initiatives can include a national plan for upgrading all relevant skills used in agriculture (human resource capital development in the agricultural sector is vital); a countrywide plan to provide agricultural business mentoring; credit access; in-farm packaging of crops; guaranteed marketing arrangements; terracing; and the strict enforcement of laws to prevent deforestation.

All these and related measures could transform the capacity of Grenadian agriculture to pay decent wages and attract young people as well as eliminate unemployment in the process.

What needs to be appreciated is that food will become more expensive and, even in some instances, scarce for the many reasons provided earlier.

Taking a systematic and scientific approach to agriculture rather than putting all the country’s eggs in the tourism basket will be both a good food-security policy as well as a strategy for achieving full employment, earning more foreign exchange, saving additional foreign exchange (the current food import bill is a scandal), boosting rural incomes and rural development, generally; and enhancing national income along with its equitable distribution countrywide.

Dr. Brian Francis, is a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation