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Cultivating a Culture of Agriculture: Are Caribbean youth up to the challenge?

 

By the time we reach first grade in the Caribbean, teachers are asking what we want to be when we grow up. We frequently raise our hands and shout “doctor, lawyer or engineer,” but how many considered the agriculture sector?

This might be a good time to think about it. As CARICOM nations look for ways to curb their $4.75 billion (U.S.) in yearly food imports, regional fishing and agriculture initiatives are on the rise.

Just this week, 55 new students began classes through a partnership between the College of the Bahamas and the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) on the island of Andros that offers associate’s degrees, one-year certificates and short-term training.

“We’re trying to show the diversity of careers in agriculture. Agriculture is an applied science, and it’s technologically driven. It’s not just a cutlass and a big hat,” said BAMSI President Godfrey Eneas, who also serves as the Bahamas’ Agribusiness Development Ambassador to the Food and Agriculture Association.

Finding and Creating the Jobs

According to a 2009 report from the Jamaica Gleaner, the most searched jobs were teachers, managers, sales representatives, and domestic workers.

Sure, old-school stereotypes about farm life prevail and vacancies are scarce, but agricultural extension officers, researchers, nutritionists, food processors and greenhouse managers generally make more than the aforementioned professions.

“As the agriculture industry grows, these might become more popular professions,” noted Roslyn Jackson, technical services coordinator for Jamaica’s Rural and Agricultural Development Authority. She also suspects more youth will become agricultural entrepreneurs.

Eneas agrees.

“We see agriculture being a source to generate new employment and diversify the sector. We can save for an exchange and earn foreign exchange from exports,” he said.

Can Food Growing be Sustainable and Cool?

In a recent World Bank blog, Five Reasons Why Youth Should Choose Agriculture, Andy Shuai Liu said demands of feeding the planet’s seven billion people not only broaden the job prospects, they up the industry’s cool factor.

“Agriculture in the developing world has become a field vibrant with effective innovations, thanks to a growing number of young techie minds that make it happen,” he wrote.

Farming is even trending in the United States, where net farm income totaled $112.8 billion in 2012, up 125 percent from the decade before, according to AgCareers.com’s 2012 Agribusiness Job Report.

That’s mostly in big farming. The so-called farm-to-table movement that has attracted large numbers of youth to grow and distribute crops on the local market isn’t as idyllic as many thought, noted American shellfish and seaweed farmer Bren Smith in a recent New York Times Op-Ed titled Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to be Farmers. He says only 10 percent of these farmers live on farming alone.

“The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat,” Smith wrote.

Back in Jamaica, Jackson can relate, with $1 billion in yearly imports, local food production is far from self-sufficient. Still, she’s hopeful government campaigns will generate more innovation and entrepreneurship.

Jamaica’s, Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow campaign allows citizens to experiment with backyard gardens and evaluate their impact on their families’ health and pocketbooks. Under the country’s National Irish Potato Program, about 180 underemployed Jamaicans, mostly young adults, are close to reaching the government’s goal of producing enough potatoes to meet national demand by 2015.

“We are very much hopeful because when the farmers see the returns from as little as .4 hectares and see the money they made from it they’re very much interested in continuing,” Jackson said.

So what’s your take? Can the Caribbean become self-sustainable, if not profitable in food growing? Will Caribbean youth heed the call?

Originally from Barbados, Rachel Boyce works as a rural development and agriculture consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington. She holds a bachelor’s in international relations (2009) and a master’s in government (2011) from the University of the West Indies Mona Campus.

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    James Wood
    November 10, 2014 Reply

    Agricultural empowerment, investment and employment can be of great importance to the caribbean especially for the tourism and hospitality sector and export generation as well.

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