Boost for black belly sheep industry . . . UWI receives $18,000 for R&D

Over BDS$18,000 in equipment has been donated to The University of the West Indies (UWI) by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to assist with research and development initiatives related to the island’s Black Belly Sheep Project.

Speaking at the handover ceremony at The UWI on Tuesday, Permanent Secretary in the ministry Terry Bascombe stressed that the Black Belly Sheep Project was one of the Ministry’s flagship initiatives.

Recalling that over a year ago he was instructed to ensure it reached fruition “in quick time”, he acknowledged that the island could have been a lot more advanced were it not for setbacks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he said the donation was testimony to the fact that its success was possible.

With the project’s main objective being to create a viable Black Belly Sheep industry in Barbados,  Bascombe said: “Most persons rearing the Black Belly Sheep see it as a hobby; in some cases, some see it as just rearing a few animals for subsistence purposes. A significant emphasis of the Government is on entrepreneurship and agri-preneurship. Therefore, one of the main objectives is to encourage sheep farmers to see the rearing of Black Belly Sheep as a viable commercial activity, and to move out of the realm of just producing one or two for just consumption purposes, but recognizing that there is a lot to be gained from the industry.”

Further noting that the rearing of Black Belly Sheep could reduce Barbados’ import bill, he pointed out that in 2018, Barbados imported approximately 1.2 million kilogrammes of meat with the cost including insurance and freight value in excess of BDS$14 million. This, he added, was no small figure, given the country’s economic challenges.

Commending The UWI’s involvement, the Permanent Secretary said development required sound research, and pointed out that across the world the most developed and developing countries were collaborating with leading universities to produce creditable and credible products and processes.

Emphasizing that Barbados was no exception, he stressed the Ministry valued the human resource quality of The UWI. “To collaborate with the university in this venture really warms our hearts and it is not the first collaboration and I can assure you it will not be the last,” he stated.

One of the benefits which the Permanent Secretary said would accrue from the collaboration is the prevention of in-breeding that causes the quality of offspring to diminish over time. Stating that Barbados wanted to maintain high standards, he said UWI’s research would address this problem.

He further stressed that maximizing the entire value chain was important to the agriculture ministry, and this was not just from the perspective of the meat but the hide.

“The properties that it has makes it second best only to kangaroos in the world,” he declared, noting that the comparison was heartening.

Also assuring the gathering that the objective set by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley for one million Black Belly Sheep on the island was attainable, Mr Bascombe said it was about “just not using the traditional methods that we were using before”.

Meanwhile, Head of the Department of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Dr Avril Williams, in accepting the equipment, said it would aid in the building of capacity, in terms of genetics and biological sciences as well as ensure training for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Urging other government and private entities to collaborate with the department, she said the region had something to offer the world, and very soon “Barbados would be able to scientifically say its Black Belly Sheep is better than the kangaroo, based on science, which is irrefutable.” (BGIS)

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