No one is expecting miracles, but the regional agriculture
sector is hoping that a more cohesive approach to its declining
fortunes will assist in regaining important ground lost mainly
through indifferent policy guidelines and priorities.
Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation
on Agriculture (IICA), Cheslton Brathwaite, describes agriculture
as the bedrock of society and the cornerstone of any
he said, is not only about helping marginal poor farmers,
(it) is a strategic sector of our economy based on science
that contributes to food security for the nation, national
and social stability, preservation of the environment and
the generation of employment opportunities.
Regional agencies involved in the process are prepared to
give the subject yet another shot at next weeks Caribbean
Week of Agriculture in Nassau, Bahamas.
The event follows successive interventions and several high-level
workshops including a major one in 2004 involving leading
institutions such as the IICA, Caribbean Agricultural Research
and Development Institute (Cardi), and the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The workshop noted then that while agriculture has been a
critical building block of all Caribbean economies its
decline has been steady and its future unstable.
According to the experts, the sector has experienced uneven
growth, a deterioration in traditional areas of production,
commodity price volatility and has been hit hard by new and
stringent production standards set by the international community.
Production for domestic consumption, which has generally fared
better, is also affected by low prices for imported commodities
made more widely available through trade liberalisation. Cardi
executive director, Wendell Parham, even suggested recently
that much of this was being led by consumers themselves.
the developed countries and, to a large extent, right here
in the Caribbean, consumers seem to be spearheading and or
influencing how food is produced, packaged, prepared and sold,
he said when opening the Agri-Food Trade Convention in Trinidad
Recognition of these realities has nudged Caribbean countries
in the direction of a number of new policy initiatives, though
all within the context of liberalised markets and under conditions
In 2003, for example, Guyana President Bharat Jagdeo called
for what he termed a repositioning of agriculture
in the region.
Now know as the Jagdeo Initiative a menu of proposed
interventions which would have the effect of synchronising
regional policies on the sector has been adopted by Caribbean
Community (Caricom) states.
The initiative says the region should move, by 2015, to develop
a transparent regulatory framework at national and regional
levels, that promotes and facilitates investment and attracts
(direct and indirect) inflows of capital.
It also calls for action that would stimulate the innovative
entrepreneurial capacity of Caribbean agricultural and rural
communities and enable the region to achieve an
acceptable level of food security that is not easily disrupted
by natural and or man-made disasters.
Cardi spokesman, Selwyn King, told Business Guardian such
action is needed to save one of the key pillars of economic
growth and stability in the Caribbean.
But the Jagdeo Initiative also points to what
it terms the key, major, binding constraints that
have the potential to keep progress in this area at bay.
It pointed to:
limited financing and inadequate new investments;
outdated and inefficient agricultural, health and food safety
inadequate research and development;
a fragmented and disorganised private sector;
inefficient land and water distribution and management systems;
deficient and unco-ordinated risk management;
inadequate transportation systems;
weak and non-integrated information and intelligence
weak marketing linkages; and
a lack of skilled human resources.
Next weeks activities in Nassau, say organisers, will
assist in driving the process forward. Its agenda includes
a specific focus on the Jagdeo Initiative and
discussions on issues such as agri-tourism: leakages and linkages
in the sector and biotechnology issues.
The Cardi Board of Governors is also expected to meet there,
while IICA is convening a special meeting of Ministers of
According to Brathwaite, We urgently need a new vision
for the sector and an agribusiness approach that fully recognises
that agriculture is more than farming, encompassing the broad
spectrum from farm to table and beyond.
are convinced that the extended agricultural sector, seen
from a perspective that is broader than primary production,
is crucial in the search for economic growth and rural prosperity,
Regional officials meeting in Nassau next week are hoping
to move the key issues from talk to action.
Caribbean journalists, under the banner of the Association
of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) have been invited to also
discuss the role of mass media in interpreting such issues.
labour shortage smashing pumpkins
Ramlogan watches workers wash and sanitise pumpkin for export
at his Charlieville home.
Farm labourers in the Dominican Republic (DR) work eight hours
a day for US$5.
In Trinidad, they want $150 (US$23) to work for three and
So says Boysie Ramlogan, an exporter of at least 16 vegetablessaime,
peewah, melongene and goods such as soft drinks and cheese
and currybased in Charlieville, central Trinidad.
Not only do Dominican Republic farmers employ cheaper labour,
but they also sell their goods on the export market cheaper
than a Trinidadian farmer, Ramlogan said.
now, were fetching US$8.50 (for pumpkins) freight on
board. The DR is selling it around US$6.
Its around 11 am and Ramlogans four workers, two
of them women, were washing the dirt off huge pumpkins under
a garage south of his two-storey concrete home to prepare
them for export. Ramlogan is in the process of expanding his
operations from his home to a warehouse nearby thats
Once washed, one man picked up each pumpkin and tossed it
across to the other worker, a big, burly fellow, to place
on the growing pile of pumpkins with the rich orange pigmentation.
Bad pumpkinsthose bitten by insects or rottingare
put in a separate heap.
While labourers work in tandem outside, Ramlogan was inside
his office talking to a small farmer to have a bag of pimentoes
and caraille delivered by eight the next morning.
the caraille in the shade, he told the farmer, who plants
two acres of land at Monroe Road. I want it as fresh
The caraille farmer is one of three brothers, all of whom
are former Caroni (1975) Ltd employees, who each got land
as part of their VSEP compensation packages. The pimentoes
and pumpkins will be their first harvest.
no problem getting pumpkins, Ramlogan said. Its
an easy crop. One man can maintain 15 acres of pumpkin. Its
a short-term crop. Ninety days after the first planting, you
Even as Ramlogan described pumpkins as easy to cultivate,
he said production has dropped because of a decrease in export
demand and a labour shortage. The labour problem started with
the creation of Cepep, Ramlogan said, leading to workers making
increased wage demands.
He spoke of a former driver working for $125 a day who requested
$200. When Ramlogan said he couldnt afford the $75 increase,
he quit. Ramlogan filled in for two weeks until he found a
new driver who started last Monday at $150 a day.
He said that a year ago, there were nine pumpkin exporters.
Today, there are three: Ramlogan, Brent Lenny Elwujud and
his wife Niloma Isahak, and Farouk Shah.
drop in exports started about three years ago, Ramlogan
said. The demand for exports is dropping because theyre
getting goods cheaper from the Dominican Republic, Mexico
and Panama. Plantations are also getting smaller due to the
Exporter Boysie Ramlogan said some pumpkin exporters claimed
they have lost as much as 300 bags a shipment due to spoilage.
they are sorting pumpkins bad or exporters are ripping them
off, he said, as he watches his workers apply quality
control checks. I get an average of 25 bags (declared
as spoilage) per container. I ship 1,050 bags each week, sometimes
twice a week.
Ramlogan admitted to being lucky in having a good relationship
with a reputable importer in Brooklyn, New York. He also exports
to his daughter, Asha, in Canada.
He said an exporter could spite a fellow exporter by calling
the law enforcement authorities to report that his shipment
contains cocaine, as was the case two years ago when police
transferred his pumpkins to another container in search of
drugs. He lost more than 8,000 pounds of pumpkin.
Exporting is a game of luck and chance. An exporter could
end up getting the raw end of a deal as Ramlogan did in exporting
a popular locally manufactured soft drink which, when tested
by US Food and Drug Administration, was found to not contain
the red colouring stated on the label, and was returned to
Trinidad. Ramlogan is not certain to be reimbursed for his
loss as the expiry date on the beverage has passed.
He also suffered an $18,000 loss on fried channa, which has
turned green and mouldy, from an Endeavour Road business,
and is having difficulty getting the man to accept his calls,
much less accept liability.
Pumpkin exporter Niloma Isahak is walking in her 67-year-old
father Abduls shoes. He exported under Tropical Food
Products Ltd, but retired and went into farming together with
his son Ishmael, daughter, her husband Elwujud.
They planted pumpkin, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, eddoes
on 146 acres in Sangre Grande and 70 acres at Manuel Congo
on the outskirts of Arima. They own the land at Grande, but
rent the one at Manuel Congo. They farm the land at Manuel
Congo in the dry season as the San Raphael river overflows
often during the rainy season.
said we couldnt pump water from the river. They only
gave us one day a week for one hour. We used to pump water
at 3 am, Isahak said. They said we had to pay
a fee. They used to come in with security guards and guns.
They stopped coming when we got flooded.
She said the Ministry of Agriculture compensated them when
flood water destroyed their crop, adding one has to know someone
in the ministry to be justly compensated.
are farmers we know who would get compensation for fields
less than ours, Isahak said. Trinidad full of
Isahaks father, whos diabetic, for 19 years made
and sold locally pepper sauce, mauby, cuchilla and mango anchar
with ingredients obtained from Toco and Mayaro. This, at the
same time, he exported. Now he leaves his Charlieville home
every single dayincluding weekends and public holidaysat
4 am right after he says his prayers and returns at 8 pm.
Along the way to the land, he will pick up labourers at Las
Lomas, Brazil and Manuel Congo.
of Cepep, nobody wants to work the whole day when they can
work for four hours, said Isahak, who exports under
the name Nile Caribbean Exporters to Miami, New York and Toronto.
They prefer to cut grass.
Exporting and agriculture run in the Isahak family. Isahaks
sister, Salima Mohammed, who lives next door, exports hot
peppers and chandon beni. Brother Abdul Wahab Isahak Jr, imports
from all over the world under the label, Premium Foods International,
in New York.
Having said that many farmers are discouraged with gardening,
Isahak was asked why they still do it. It is a source
She remembers working alongside her father since she was 18,
leaving home at 7 pm to line up outside the Macoya market
on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays for it to open at 4 am,
so they could get a space to sell sweet potatoes.
used to enjoy it, said Isahak, who gave birth to a boy
on a Friday, was discharged on Sunday and returned to work
on Monday. You have to take life with a pinch of sugar,
As Isahak spoke, her four employees, all women, were sanitising
pumpkins under a huge garage outside for a shipment of 50,000
pounds to New York.
Rotten pumpkins are given to the pig man.