Positive potential, but …

The human resource, particularly the youth, is the greatest resource of any nation with respect to its potential for increased economic development and improving the standard of living and quality of life of its people. However, the old adage: “Where there is lack of vision, the people perish”, although often repeated and may appear to many as a cliché, has unfortunately become a truism that has plagued too many Caribbean states, including our own, Antigua & Barbuda.

It was visionary and committed leadership that propelled the transformation of Antigua & Barbuda from a colonial mono crop sugar economy fuelled by workers whose wages could barely provide parsimonious existence for themselves and families into one of the leading tourist economies in the Eastern Caribbean, and which accommodated an upsurge in immigration that transformed the society in its post colonial state into one of the most multi cultural societies in the region.

The transformative period involved the construction of touristic plants – hotels, condominiums, restaurants, banks, etc – that required skilled architects and engineers as well as artisans such as carpenters and masons. Ironically, during the period when sugar dominated the local economy, many Antiguans emigrated to greener pastures. This, compounded by an already small native labour force, provided the avenue for an unprecedented high level of immigration to this twin island state to satisfy the demand primarily for construction workers.

However, while one can commend the transformative economic vision of the administrations of the time, one must decry their failure to establish institutions of technical and artisan training. As a consequence, after decades of the construction industry being an important sector in the national economy, there is no major local trade school or technical college that is geared to producing young Antiguans and Barbudans with the requisite training and basic qualifications to enter the construction industry. The same can be said for institutions of training and expertise in many other areas where we continue to lag.

This region is blessed with sun, sea and sand. Over time intra regional competition for the tourist dollar along with external pressures such as the recent economic meltdown in the US and other developed countries created a slump in the economic fortunes of this twin island state – and this occurred at a time when the citizenry had become accustomed to a relatively high standard of living that gave rise to higher expectations of still a better life.

At the same time, a burgeoning population placed pressure on successive administrations to provide the infrastructural development and social amenities befitting a modern, economically vibrant post colonial society. Emphasis was placed on education with focus on universal primary and secondary opportunities allowing for increased numbers of nationals to acquire tertiary and university education. Unfortunately, though, the emphasis is still on academics, the social sciences, law, and medicine – basically non-productive disciplines … we are investing in employees and not entrepreneurs.

Towards the end of last month, the Extension Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with the private sector, held what was to be a three-day 2017 Agriculture Extravaganza at the Wadadli Animal, Nature Park at Lyons in the vicinity of Potworks Dam. Although it was pushed back by a day, the opening session was a disaster; there was no government official present to facilitate a proper opening ceremony and after an interminable wait, tinged with uncertainty as to what would transpire to start the programme, a decision was made to pause the recorded music that provided a backdrop to the event in order for the representative of the clergy, who had been invited to render prayers at the opening ceremony, to proceed with his assigned contribution.

The slipshod planning and organising of the event was woefully obvious. Had it not been for the face saving turnout of hundreds of students from over 25 schools, the entire day’s exercise would have been an utter embarrassment to the organisers.

However, the participation of students from primary and secondary schools gave rise to the hope that there could be a bright future for agriculture in Antigua & Barbuda. The overwhelming participation of the schools at this year’s Agricultural Extravaganza has resulted directly from the ongoing collaboration of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Extension Division in establishing school farms.

The enthusiasm shown by the students as they displayed germinated plants from their respective schools; participated in the competitions and viewed the various exhibitions, including one in which they were treated to a detailed explanation of the hydroponic process of producing lettuce by the Precision Development Foundation of Paynters, if properly channeled, could serve to mould a cadre of young agriculturalists. They in turn could break the stereotypical mould of the Caribbean farmer being a man with a dingy hat, shading his head from the sun, tattered clothing and doggedly wielding a hoe.

If properly channeled, the enthusiasm of those young, impressionable minds could be influenced to pursue meaningful and well paying careers from the wide array of disciplines in agriculture and related fields such as agro processing, research and development as well as utilising mechanisation – given the conducive, relatively flat terrain – and the application of modern technology.

Let’s reiterate, one must be mindful that where there is no vision, the people perish. The powers that be ought to provide the enabling environment to nurture the youth into innovative and non-traditional initiatives.

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