Poultry push

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the local poultry sector’s ability to meet the demand of the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup, which is slated to begin in three months’ time.

This concern was raised by Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir who explained that Barbados’ self-sufficiency in poultry is currently impacted by a number of challenges.

The minister said an assessment of the sector would determine if importation was necessary.

However, he assured the public that steps were being taken to ensure that all other aspects of the agricultural sector could derive full benefit from the global event.

Among the areas to be addressed was the expedited provision of water supply to some areas that were heavily impacted by drought conditions.

Last month, chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), James Paul, reported the chickens were being impacted by stunted growth. However, Weir said the production issues impacting the sector went beyond the size of the birds.

“I will be very frank with you. The poultry sector is having its challenges for several reasons, not just stunted growth. The problem is that there are several management issues that we must deal with as well as instituting best practices for farms. I am speaking about how feed is stored on farms, maintenance, the quality of chicken coops, the introduction of chillers and fans, a wide range of issues,” Weir said.

“If there was an Achilles heel ahead of the World Cup, it would be the poultry sector, especially given what we experience at Christmas with shortages and we therefore must keep a laser-like focus on it to ensure that things are going according to plan.”

The minister said he had already held meetings with the industry players, noting more would be necessary to gauge the projections in the weeks ahead of the tournament. He said similar meetings were planned for the pork and dairy industries, stressing that constant monitoring would be key going forward.

“We are in planning sessions with the poultry producers. The last meeting I had with them was in January and as soon as the Estimates are over, I will meet with them again to look at our projections for June, so that we can make sure that we have that six-week window. During that window we will decide on whether they are falling short and therefore must make the decision to import,” he said.

In an immediate response to Weir’s concerns, Paul said he was equally concerned the World Cup could be used as an “excuse to grant import licenses for poultry”. He said before any determination could be made, industry players needed the data pertaining to demand in a timely manner.

“It comes down to what information is shared with the sector and how soon it is shared. We do not know the number of guests expected to be on the island. So far all we are hearing is that the numbers are supposed to be great. People in the sector have relationships with the buyers and they must have some idea as to what their expectations are. So, if those expectations can be shared with the agricultural sector, we can better determine what is required,” Paul said.

As it related to crop production, Weir said the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) would be working on several solutions to address water shortages on some farms. He also revealed that steps were being taken to bring some land which had been left fallow back into production within the next few weeks. The minister said plans were in the pipeline to establish a Crop Production Unit within the Barbados Agricultural Development & Marketing Corporation to ramp up cultivation.

“I have brought back in some experienced farmers, those 25 years and up of experience, who would help us work with the younger ones and who would help us get production going at the other farming areas that we have identified. We are getting assistance from BWA, who are installing a main at Spencer’s for us. Once all of this is settled, I believe that we will be in a good place,” Weir said.

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