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Isolation, preservation and development on the paradise isle of Barbuda

Interview - December 16, 2014

Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs has a broad portfolio that has kept him busy since the June 2014 election. He tells United World that his first love, Barbuda, is set for a new phase of development that will benefit its people without spoiling its unique charms


A $250 million luxury tourist development was recently announced for the island of Barbuda, with the financial backing of Robert De Niro, among others. The government has vowed that Barbuda will be developed concurrently with Antigua, on an equal footing. As a proud representative of Barbuda: What are islanders on Barbuda looking for in terms of development and how can these plans be realised without spoiling the unique charms and character of the island?

I like the last part of your question because we have to be sure we do not destroy the natural beauty of Barbuda. I am one of those people who understands and believes that we need development because the people need to improve their standard of living overall. At the same time we have to preserve the natural charms of Barbuda because people are clamouring to find new destinations, they do not want a concrete jungle, so we are promoting Barbuda as a five-star destination; we are not going after the “mass tourism”, we want to bring the high-end tourists who will spend the big bucks.

We are promoting it to high-end people; Princess Diana, before she passed away, visited us 2-3 times, and stayed at the famous K-Club which is the same property that we are expecting to redevelop through the $250 million project you are talking about.

I understand that you also are a big proponent of ecotourism; do you see that playing a role in the development of Barbuda as well?

You have to strike the balance; as part of the K-Club development they will be constructing an eco-lodge because we are thinking about the green technology, the use of alternative energy, and all of this is factored into the development. We are going to strike a balance were you are going to have eco-tourism and also the regular tourism: Barbuda will be a new brand.    

Sometimes Barbuda can be overlooked by visitors to the country who do not make the effort to get to know the sister island. In your own words, what is it about visiting Barbuda that makes it such a unique, memorable experience?

It is because of the lack of promotion that we have been hidden over the years, and that is good, in a way, because it means the island is unspoiled. I stated to my leader that Barbuda must be factored into everything that we do, but we must not rush to bring it alongside Antigua with exactly the same measures.

But we do need some development so we can be promoted alongside Antigua. After all, the name of the state includes Barbuda, so we must indeed ensure that the island is brought on board. I think we are well on our way to making that happen, and since this government was elected in June we have already approved at least 3 developmental projects for Barbuda – all tourism related. As we speak now there is one small project under construction that will be a perfect place for people to unwind. It will have 15 bungalows, nice and small units, nestled among the mangroves in an area called Cedar Tree Point. They hope to complete it by January.

You have dedicated all your adult life to serving the people of Barbuda. Now you are representing them in Cabinet.  What sort of legacy do you hope to leave behind for your people by the time you leave government, hopefully many years from now?

Barbuda is my first love. I want to see Barbuda at a stage where we are not seen as a burden on central government because that perception has been out there over the years. My job is to turn that around and so that we become a community that generates all the income we need and even a surplus so we become a net contributor to the central treasury.

We don’t want to turn it into a concrete jungle but we at least want to offer medical services, to improve education, and bring more investment, so that local people can have their own businesses. That is the kind of legacy that I want to leave for Barbuda.    

Moving on to other parts of your portfolio; the new government has pledged to raise the standing of agriculture and fisheries among the youth, who are currently more focused on attaining white and pink collar jobs. How do you intend to do this and why is it important to promote these industries in an economy largely dependent on tourism and financial services?

We are looking to create linkages between agriculture and tourism; there is always much talk about this, but I don’t think anybody has done the necessary work to ensure that the linkage becomes a reality. I am new in the post and I am tackling this head on because tourism will continue to be our main industry for a very long time.

However, we have to feed our people, so in agriculture we are looking to reduce the amount of foreign exchange that we spend on buying food. We can produce all this food locally and you can say to the people, “look you can come to Antigua & Barbuda and eat fresh food and vegetables.”  

Per capita, Antigua and Barbuda has the highest rate of chicken consumption in the Eastern Caribbean. We love it, but we import most of it. We want to produce a good amount of chicken ourselves to stop the drain of foreign exchange. We are trying to let people buy into the mantra that, ‘You eat what you grow and grow what you eat’; this will reduce the amount of chemicals we consume in mass-produced food, so we would be looking at food security and ensuring that the food you consume is safe.

Some of the food grown locally is of very high quality, especially your black pineapples…

Well, they are the best! All over the world people ask for the Antigua Black, so we are trying to see what we can do to expand on that. Our technicians are working as we speak to ensure that we get the right seedlings and so on. We want to brand the Antigua Black.

Mangoes and bananas are also grown here. In addition, you have the largest Exclusive Economic Zone for fishing in the Eastern Caribbean region. The Caribbean Basin Initiative grants duty free access into the US market for agricultural and fisheries produce, yet exports in this direction remain relatively small. How does this government intend to boost exports in agriculture and fisheries and take advantage of the huge market on your doorstep?

We do have the fishing grounds, but we have been suffering over the years from foreign fishermen coming into our waters and exploiting them; we do not have the capacity to police the situation. What we have to do is to forge linkages. We are forging a relationship with the fishermen of Guadalupe, co-operative to co-operative, so they can assist each other and that may alleviate that problem of foreign fishing.

As you rightfully said, we expect to be able to exploit our fishing grounds, but we need some assistance. The Japanese are already here and our strategy is to get more assistance from them. Currently, local fishermen have not been able exploit the tuna, marlin, and wahoo – all the bigger fish that fetch the bigger prices. That is where we have the intrusion from the foreign fishermen. I am hoping to forge better links with the Japanese, and even have them train our fisherman and equip them with larger vessels.