Monday 14th August, 2006

Sports Arena
Business Guardian
Online Community
Death Notices
Classified Ads
Jobs in T&T
Contact Us
Privacy Policy


Agriculture Ministry needs market-led plan

It wasn’t a confident, well-informed Minister of Agriculture who sat for his interview with the Sunday Guardian. What the nation read in Jarrette Narine’s 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 snail’s 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 didn’t 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 government’s 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 nobody’s 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 demand.

Past history in government-led agricultural management is not inspiring, not even counting recent events in the era of Narine’s “overhaul” of his ministry’s operations.

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 Narine’s 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.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

Designed by: Randall Rajkumar-Maharaj · Updated daily by: Sheahan Farrell