Ministry needs market-led plan
wasnt a confident, well-informed Minister of Agriculture
who sat for his interview with the Sunday Guardian. What
the nation read in Jarrette Narines published responses
were the words of a politician all too eager to score points
off his competition, but with little to point to as positive,
measurable action on his own beat.
Narine was enthusiastic in his revelation that his ministry
implemented some infrastructure projects in Moruga, Oropouche
and Plum Mitan, and that he has increased leases of land
to potential farmers to 1,000, but he seemed unclear about
one of the weightiest issues before him, the management
of the lands at Caroni.
Long-promised delivery of these lands has proceeded in fits
and starts at what might charitably be called a snails
pace since thousands of former cane farmers accepted VSEP.
The provision of basic infrastructure, drainage and roads,
required to facilitate returning these long fallow lands
to productive use, lags far behind even the faltering distribution
which has taken place.
That reality didnt stop Deosaran Jagroo, CEO of Caroni
(1975) Ltd, from confidently predicting that local food
production would be on the rise from mid-2007, bolstered
by produce from the two-acre lots the company is still distributing
to former employees of the company.
According to Jagroo, 7,500 two-acre plots designated for
agriculture will be distributed by the end of 2006, and
of the 4,000 ready for distribution, 3,000 have been distributed.
But rainy weather and poor drainage and road systems have
kept many of these allotments from being brought back into
production, despite the governments leisurely lead-in
to the actual distribution of the plots and the common sense
requirements that should accompany any realistic plan to
bring so much land back into agricultural use.
But nobodys talking about how new volumes of produce
will be brought to market without depressing prices below
profitability and crop yields will be planned to ensure
that there is a suitable range of agricultural products.
These macro-business issues are beyond the capabilities
of a small two-acre farming operation, but well suited to
the stated mission of Namdevco, which should be working
with a clear understanding of where local crop shortfalls
exist and how farmers can plan their land use to match market
Past history in government-led agricultural management is
not inspiring, not even counting recent events in the era
of Narines overhaul of his ministrys
Last October, the Ministry promised to provide marketing
support for the winners of a competition led by the Housewives
Association of Trinidad and Tobago and the Agricultural
Society. That competition identified 12 agribusiness entrepreneurs
who created 15 marketable products between them, using local
produce and fauna such as rabbits and tilapia.
Approval for the funding to support those entrepreneurs
is still to be presented to Cabinet for approval, which
strongly suggests that both Narines ministry and the
government have much to do in bringing the concerns of farmers
to the stove, far less the front burner.
Nobody in the agriculture ministry, in Caroni (1975) Ltd
or in Namdevco can seriously believe that handing over plots
of land to farmers, many of them novices, will solve the
problem of rising food prices.
After years of neglect, the challenge now is to rebuild
a value chain for the local agriculture sector, linking
infrastructure with food production, distribution with market
demand and product development with customer tastes.
Until we are willing to do that, the government will continue
to make empty promises to consumers, farmers will face frustration
and the nation will continue importing staples we are capable
of producing on our own lands.