Agri needs bright, young tech leaders

Agri needs bright, young tech leaders

Editor's Write

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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FOR decades we have failed to attract a significant number of bright young minds to agriculture. Many children who grew up helping with family plots and tending to animals have long since moved away from the farm to seek jobs — many encouraged by their parents. A few stayed the course and reaped the reward from labouring in the fields, rearing large livestock herds and eventually taking over full management.

Yet others felt that farming was menial work and smacked of slavery. This is a mindset which even now threatens our survival as it has had a noticeable psychological impact on our societies. We are now faced with the formidable job of transforming the way many of us think about the sector.

Successive governments put several institutions in place to drive agriculture, and some private sector interests invested — with mixed results. But, we failed to attract the brightest and best young people to the sector so our food security is threatened by the failure not only to grow what we eat, but to export on a sufficient scale to attract critical foreign exchange. Besides, our consumption patterns are more alien than indigenous. Much of the food we boast about is not consistently served to those who flock to hotels and restaurants.

However, we can address these deficiencies by looking at fresh approaches to farming and farm management, consumption and marketing of food products. We posit that technology could make a tremendous contribution to the transformation of the sector and attract our brightest and best. The Caribbean has a long history of training in agriculture, going back to the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture at The University of the West Indies campus in Trinidad. It was the seat of learning not only for Caribbean students but attracted many from beyond the region. Today, we boast high scientific efforts at our regional universities and should be encouraging more students to pursue areas of study which would contribute to building our agricultural sectors. There is considerable value in pursuing the many areas which offer the possibility of a bountiful harvest.

Recently, governments introduced the portfolio of the blue economy, a fancy term for reaping the fruits of the sea. It's about time. Longline fishing trawlers from as far away as Taiwan patrol our waters for weeks, gathering their catch. It is smart technology which allows them to venture far out from home port, confident of their forays into distant waters.

Our fishermen, too often lost at sea, deserve to be equipped to reap more of the abundant resources in our waters. There should be a determined effort to mount major fishing projects, using the latest technology, to locate fish stocks and exercise protection of our marine life. Onshore, we should be expanding operations in hydroponics and fish farming, two aspects of agriculture which have been more experimental than large-scale. Investment in new technologies can also lead to more significant value-added products using the raw materials which we produce.

Consumption is also a key plank in this drive and will only succeed if we find ways in which to encourage the younger generation to have respect for what we produce. Overall, we must give the agricultural sector the respect it deserves so that it can be built up as a valuable pursuit worthy of educational investment.

A crucial review of production techniques should lead to retooling such that we are ahead of the curve in the deployment of hardware and software to transform the workflows in the field and on the production lines.

These moves require fresh, bright minds absorbed in theory and able to use the most modern tools to make strategic decisions about building out the agricultural sector as a lead element of our gross domestic product, earning valuable foreign exchange for our further development objectives. The combination of new-found knowledge, combined with that of our experienced hands, should go a long way in transforming a sector which has promised so much for so long, and whose time aided an abundance of technology tools.

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