The Poor Man and His Land

And who is to cultivate the additional acreage? Is it to be retained by the estates which at their discretion can export any production, beyond that of the required 12%, and which they will undoubtedly do, if they can obtain a price higher than the market controlled price in Barbados? From a purely economic viewpoint, many crops can best be cultivated at the plantation scale, and present economic requirements no doubt dictate that this scale of cultivation be maintained. But is this socially and politically desirable?
Other crops and especially most vegetables are best grown on holdings of less than 100 acres. Medium sized holdings i.e. 10-50 acres are probably the most viable. Some proof of this is a 14 acre holding in St. James from which the owner realised, in 1964, a net income of $28,000.00. However, it is in vegetable production that the peasant sector can share, though success will depend upon a more effective Marketing Corporation.
The enquiry should now be directed at the failure of the Government to diversify the peasant sector. The Agricultural Extension Service, the Agricultural Credit Bank, formerly the Peasant Loan Bank, the Cooperative Department and the Barbados Marketing Corporation were all expected to be a stimulus to diversification. But the power of ‘sugar’ has been too great.

To the peasant, the economic incentives are even higher today than in former years. Factories have been paying more for higher yielding canes, an improvement due largely to superior varieties obtained from the plantations, the latter also supplying artificial fertilizer. Transportation facilities for peasant cane have also been greatly improved. Cane is frequently used as an important loan collateral, which was the case until recently with the Peasant Loan Bank. Thus, we had the paradox of an institution established primarily for the purpose of diversification, until recently insisting on land in cane as loan collateral. Is this sufficient to explain the survival of ‘sugar cane mentality’? Probably not.

It is obvious that the Agricultural Extension Service has not succeeded in persuading other than a handful of peasants that they can make as much of an income from food crops, if not more, as from cane. Even if the Service had succeeded in this respect, the income derived would still not satisfy the cash needs of the majority of peasant families. Only about 15% of Barbadian peasants are full-time farmers, the balance relying upon income from several sources and cane cultivation allows for the flexibility that is desirable if a peasant is to engage in other part-time occupations. The constant demands of vegetable cultivation would not permit such flexibility. It is clear then that any alternative to cane would have to result in an income equal to the profits of the land and the peasant’s labour elsewhere.

The Extension Service has not been without some achievement. Cultivation techniques have been improved, fertiliser is more wisely selected and more widely used, superior seeds and roots of a wide range of crops have been made available relatively cheaply, irrigation techniques have been introduced, and advice has been given on grassland conversion and animal husbandry.

Without the full support, through careful coordination and efficient functioning of the other institutions designed to implement diversification, sincere and hard-working extension officers have had little chance of winning the majority of peasants from their plantation ties. The peasants, faced with the alternative of reliance upon an ‘urban elite’, and victimised by an ineffective marketing system, prefer to retain their bonds with the plantation, from which they obtain the best of cane varieties, fertiliser, seeds and roots of some provision crops, transportation of cane to the factory, and perhaps, both land-for-rent and free grazing.

More recently, a Cooperative Department was established, its main function being to advise peasant farmers on how to pool their land and other resources so as to achieve some of the benefits of economy of size. The task here is a difficult one, largely because of the widespread and oft-repeated belief that every Barbadian must have his plot of land, however small. A belief stimulated more recently by the slogan: “one acre, one man”, and inspired in turn by that of “one man, one vote”. How long can such a misconception be perpetuated? The proliferation of microfundia at the expense of the plantations can only lead to economic and social chaos.

One is tempted to explain the persistence of the microfundia, in terms of the government’s refusal to court any threat to its ‘sugar’ economy by depriving the plantation sector of too much of its marginal land and the flexibilitv of its labour, while at the same time, aiding and ¬∑abetting in the establishment of microfundia.

Government institutions designed to assist the peasant from the purchase of land to the marketing of production will not succeed, nor will diversification of production become a reality, until such time as the Government of Barbados stands fairly and squarely behind the peasant farmer. In doing this, it sees, for example, that peasant cooperatives are extended the same economies, through scale of operation, as are the plantations.

Is there not also the possibility that the institutions designed to aid the peasant in various ways are miscast? Once the peasant farmer makes any headway with diversification, and especially if initial success leads to an increase in the scale of his operation, then existing institutions have little to offer him.

If diversification does mean, now or at any time, cultivation by the peasant farmer either as an individual or within a cooperative system of export crops other than cane, the following should be kept in mind. The real income of individuals attempting to sustain themselves by specialized production for world markets may, if their resource endowment is poor and their skills are limited, be lower than what they might enjoy under subsistence or peasant economy. Exchange economy and the possession of cash do not automatically guarantee a living.

Some diversification has taken place. Observation of the peasant farming landscape over the past decade attests to this fact. To whom is credit for this change to be extended, if not to the Government? Intercropping and bedding are landscape manifestations of diversification. Though these agronomic techniques are not new to Barbadian agriculture and have been preached by extension officers for a decade or more, it is the woman on the farm, particularly if she is a hawker, who has had the greatest influence upon their recent and more widespread acceptance. Inter-cultivation is a reasonable compromise between the peasant who refuses to reduce the number of cane holes and the woman who wants to grow food crops, some for sale, some for home use, some for both.

To what extent has tourism contributed to diversification? It is difficult to say. The Government has encouraged hotels to purchase locally, but some large chain hotels have preferred to import in deference to the tastes of North Americans. There are still many mid-latitude inhabitants who believe that vegetables grown in the tropics cannot taste the same, nor be a nutritious as those grown in their home environment. Of course, this is nonsense, but if the large hotels are to be convinced of the wisdom of purchasing locally, they must be assured of a continuing supply, and of a high quality product. Both are possible in Barbados.
The hotels and guest houses must be given some credit for diversification, in that they purchase considerable quantities of fruit, provision crops and vegetables from hawkers.

I am not convinced of the wisdom of diversifying by means of pasture development and dairying. In terms of the best and most profitable use of land and long-term food-cost budgeting, it will surely be far cheaper to rely upon milk reconstitution plants based upon imported milk powder, and upon imported beef from the savannas of Guyana and mutton from New Zealand.

And one must not forget fish; they cannot be denied. The full potential of the Barbadian fishery will yet be realiszd, when Barbadians are prepared to fish in sufficient numbers to assure an economic catch, and when the Government properly organizes refrigeration and distribution.

Whither goes diversification? An independent Barbados will have to make up its mind. Is diversification to serve social needs only? If so, then Barbados will have to decide if it can afford such a welfare scheme. Are ecomonic needs the only concern of diversification? If so, then Government will have to decide immediately, on the right roles of estates, microfundia and cooperatives. Surely diversification can no longer serve political needs. Jamaica has been witness to the proliferation of microfundia to serve the needs of politicians. This must not occur in Barbados.

Whither goes diversification? An independent Barbados will have to make up its mind. Is diversification to serve social needs only? If so, then Barbados will have to decide if it can afford such a welfare scheme. Are ecomonic needs the only concern of diversification? If so, then Government will have to decide immediately, on the right roles of estates, microfundia and cooperatives. Surely diversification can no longer serve political needs. Jamaica has been witness to the proliferation of microfundia to serve the needs of politicians. This must not occur in Barbados.

Whither goes diversification? An independent Barbados will have to make up its mind. Is diversification to serve social needs only? If so, then Barbados will have to decide if it can afford such a welfare scheme. Are ecomonic needs the only concern of diversification? If so, then Government will have to decide immediately, on the right roles of estates, microfundia and cooperatives. Surely diversification can no longer serve political needs. Jamaica has been witness to the proliferation of microfundia to serve the