The Poor Man and His Land
Diversify, sub-divide, industrialize!
This has been the cry in Barbados for many years, no less than in most other developing countries and emerging societies, where economies have for centuries been dominated by the plantation system. To the Barbadian, a member of the most literate nation in the tropical world, the impossibility of any greatly increased measure of industrialization has long been apparent. Though diversity within the economy is possible by means of such activities as food processing and tourism, it is with agriculture that he automatically associates ‘diversification’. At this point, that is the association of agriculture and diversification, that agreement ceases.
Diversification may mean one or more of many things, a change from dependence on sugar cane, with more crops for export, an increased acreage of provision crops, more production for home consumption and processing, greater emphasis on livestock products especially dairy products, increased subdivision of estates. To many there appears to be an assumption that diversification is to be, or should be, part and parcel of an increase in the significance of the peasant sector. But above all else, it should mean, at least to the peasant, a breaking of the colonial bonds, a manifestation of economic independence, the final stage in emancipation. The fact that it does not offer as such to the majority is evidence of a failing of self-government, even on the eve of complete political independence.
What then is diversification in Barbados today? The range of possibilities has been suggested above. For a start, it is useful and easier to state what it is not, at least substantively. Even though government claims have been to the contrary, peasant agriculture is less diverse today than it was ten years ago, twenty years ago and probably thirty years ago. More peasants are growing cane today than in the past, and they are not only allocating a greater proportion of their land to cane, but they have greatly increased the percentage they contribute to total island production. Recent field surveys and census data indicate a significant decline in both the number of types of peasant farming, especially of ‘mixed’ farming, which is characterized by the
Claims of diversification have tended to go hand in hand with claims for the growth of the peasant sector, but how realistic are these latter claims? Firstly, 1961 census purports the existence of 27,912 farm holdings, but of these, 9,109 were ‘holdings without land’, the latter being a rubric to cover the operator who keeps livestock for agricultural purposes and who, by and large, grazes these livestock either on the limited common lands of the island, or by permission on plantation grazing. Otherwise poaches.
If one considers the statistically defined ‘peasant’ farm, that is, the farm from 0-10 acres, there were 18,517 in 1961. Allowing for the fact that the qualifications for recognition of plots of land as farms in 1946 were generally lower than those in 1961, it appears as though the number remained about the same in 1961 as in 1946. However, with holdings 1-5 acres, there was a decrease of 15%, for holdings 5-10 acres, 26%, and for those 10-50 acres, 53%. Apart from the fact that the increase in peasant farms claimed is largely, if not entirely, in the form of ‘the landless peasant’, there is the disturbing situation in which the viable medium size farms are rapidly disappearing. And, in addition, there was, in the intercensal period 1946-1961, a loss of 10% of the farm land, primarily in the face of housing and hotel expansion.
Diversification in the form of a lessened dependence of the economy upon sugar is not yet manifest. Acreage has increased in the last decade though annual production fluctuates just over the million and a half ton level. There has been no significant reduction in the dependence of the island economy upon sugar and rum. It is quite remarkable that in 1963, the Farley report on the sugar industry found it necessary to state:
“that the continued predominance or sugar in the economy is exceedingly risky and therefore there is need for diversification of agricultural production. Discussions with the government and the Civil Servants indicate that there is an awareness of the need for this diversification…”
The most recent legislation aimed at enforcing food production was the Local Food Production Defence Control Order No. 2 of 1942. By this Act, all the plantations located on the coral limestone soils of the island were expected to plant 127′.· of their land annually in specified food crops – yam, eddo, pulses, sweet potato, corn, tomato and some other vegetables, while plantations in the Scotland District were to plant 7% of their land, in sweet potato only. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of this legislation. The fact that the plantation sector is the major supplier of vegetables to the Barbados Marketing Corporation. and the source of almost all the 3~~ million lbs. of yams produced in 1965, several thousand tons of which were available for export, are figures usually quoted as evidence of effectiveness. There is no denying that without this production, the lot of the Barbadian consumer would have been a sad one. However, the question that must be answered – and soon is whether or not, if the Barbadian Government is to legislate for diversification, reliance on the Control Order No. 2, 1942, is the most rational approach.
If diversification merely means an increased acreage and production of provision crops then headway has been made, but largely by means, at least initially of the legislative requirement, that ‘preparation’ and ‘thrown out’ land on plantations be made available for the cultivation of food crops. Of course, this type of requirement is not new. It has been a subject of legislation since the 17th Century. In 1631, at a time when tobacco was the commercial crop, an Order of Council had to be passed to restrict the plantations from the planting of tobacco until such time as more food was produced.
The most recent legislation aimed at enforcing food production was the Local Food Production Defence Control Order No. 2 of 1942. By this Act, all the plantations located on the coral limestone soils of the island were expected to plant 12% of their land annually in specified food crops – yam, eddo, pulses, sweet potato, corn, tomato and some other vegetables, while plantations in the Scotland District were to plant 7% of their land, in sweet potato only. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of this legislation. The fact that the plantation sector is the major supplier of vegetables to the Barbados Marketing Corporation. and the source of almost all the 3 1/2 million lbs. of yams produced in 1965, several thousand tons of which were available for export, are figures usually quoted as evidence of effectiveness. There is no denying that without this production, the lot of the Barbadian consumer would have been a sad one. However, the question that must be answered, and soon, is whether or not, if the Barbadian Government is to legislate for diversification, reliance on the Control Order No. 2, 1942, is the most rational approach.
There is a fundamental misconception involved in the assumption of the Control Order that all plantations on the coral limestone soils are equally capable of producing yams, corn, sweet potatoes and vegetables. In fact, a survey conducted in 1963 indicated that yields of yams ranged from 864 to 24,388 lbs. per acre and that a yield of 6,000 lbs. was necessary if anything was to be gained from the operation, There are physical variations which preclude the possibility of maintaining yields of anything like 6,000 lbs per acre throughout the region without heavy and costly manuring, supplemental irrigation and excellent management.
Nevertheless an increasing number of plantations possessing optimum conditions no longer have to be required. They have, willingly, increased the acreage of certain provision crops and vegetables, partly because of the export potential.
An increasing number of plantations in areas such as St. Philip and St. Lucy which are marginal for cane cultivation without irrigation, have turned to cotton and groundnuts. The Sugar Producers’ Association, which represents the interests of the estates, now has an active Diversification Section, which is not only seeking alternative cash crops to cane, but is also helping to increase the yields of the plantation grown provision crops and vegetables.
What, Where and Why – is diversification?
These questions have been recently asked by E. G. B. Gooding, of the Sugar Producers’ Association. In reply, he states that diversification has three main objectives:
“(1) to find and develop a crop or crops, of considerable export value which can take the place of cane now, on some of those areas where cane is already uneconomic, and which could replace cane to a very substantial extent, if the price of sugar were to fall much further.
(2) to enable us to produce a higher proportion of our own foodstuffs, and thus reduce our food import bill by some ten million dollars or more.
(3) to enable us to produce various food stuffs for export.”
Secondly, he states that cotton is a possible alternative to sugar cane, on those coastal lands where cane is presently only worth $360.00 per acre. Others have suggested bananas as an alternative, on the cane lands of the Scotland District. In both cases, there is no questioning their suitability from a physical viewpoint, but who at this stage would dare to predict a reasonable future for either crop, without as yet any economic integration in the eastern Caribbean, nor stable world markets.
Thirdly, he states that at present Barbados has about 12,500 acres in provision crops and vegetables, and that if you were going to reduce the cost of food imports by $10,000,000, an additional 8,500 acres would be necessary. By means of additional improvement in varieties of sugar cane, through full exploitation of the excellent soil map of Barbados that is now available, by adjustments in the planting/harvesting schedule in order to exploit more fully a very favourable climate, the present output of sugar could be maintained, on a reduced acreage, perhaps freeing the necessary acreage stipulated by Gooding.
Finally he claims that ‘the gross return per acre of land ‘diversified’ under food crops and animal husbandry would average about $800.00 per acre compared with about $600.00 for sugar cane (at present prices for sugar).