Bajan Blackbelly sheep going regional

Shared land use for agriculture is an area of CARICOM cooperation that is an obvious no-brainer that causes one to question why it is not happening, but a Barbados-Guyana-Suriname collaboration should soon see ventures in this area.

Indications are that the Barbados native Blackbelly may soon be grown in the larger expanses of the two South American CARICOM member countries.

Reports have emerged that 166-square-mile Barbados, which developed this genetic strain of tropical sheep, has responded to shrinking agricultural space on an already miniature land mass, by sending its farmers to share the technology for rearing this animal on plains of the 83,000-square-mile Guyana and the 63,000 square-mile-Suriname.

With developers capitalising on loop-holes in Barbados laws and buying up farmland for lucrative housing projects on an island in high demand by wealthy foreigners as a residence, authorities have over the years been decrying the reducing area for the Blackbelly stock, that like all grazing animals, requires extensive acreage.

Currently the Barbados Blackbelly sheep population stands at an estimated 15,000, less than half the critical mass needed for stock sustainability for self-sufficiency in lamb and development into an industry for sheep leather by-products.

“We have to increase the number of black belly sheep heads that we have in Barbados, Minister of Agriculture, Indar Weir said this week.

“If we are to get to be able to produce the amount of lamb that we import to produce it locally, we need approximately 35,000 heads, so it is a significant jump,” he said, adding, “if we are looking at the full value chain — the skins to make leather craft and products — then we need to get up to 600 000 to one million heads”.

Years of careful crossbreeding of sheep brought from parts of sub-Saharan Africa centuries ago and those from more temperate zones resulted in teh unique animal that is able to tolerate heat and display more stamina than most breeds of sheep.

They breed all year long, do not require intensive management, and produce lean and mild-flavoured meat.

Though many countries have imported some of the animals for cross-breeding with local stock, Barbados has maintained the original genetic traits through Greenland Livestock Research Station, which the minister said would control the genetic traits and ensure interbreeding does not occur when the animals are sent to the sister CARICOM territories.

“Guyana and Suriname have offered Barbadian farmers to go down and use land to rear the sheep,” Weir said, adding, “the farmers in this project would be part of a traceability system as well”.

“We are sending out a team now to look at Suriname and then Guyana to make sure we have a suitable arrangement and type of land that we can raise the black belly sheep.”

Goods manufactured and produced otherwise within CARICOM enjoy a free-trade arrangement that would allow Barbadian farmers working alongside counterparts in Guyana and Suriname to export lamb and by-products to Barbados without import levies.

One Barbadian is already exporting sheep leather to Italy, but the fledgling industry of sheep leather products in Barbados is now being aided with research by the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, in a collaborative project with China.

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