"T&T imports 90 per cent of its goat meat from Australia."
The decline of the coconut industry by 80 per cent is catastrophic." The Minister of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs, Vasant Bharath, made these comments at a press conference at the Ministry of Agriculture, Serpentine Street, St Clair, last week. It was held to outline the ministry's vision for agriculture. "We eat so much goat meat. A Web site said we are the 10th largest purchaser. We need to revive goat and sheep rearing." He also identified plans to resuscitate other areas of the agricultural sector which had almost entirely collapsed and those in dire need of financial and technical expertise. Among those industries severely affected were: aquaculture, cocoa, citrus, beekeeping, buffalypso rearing and coconut.
"The decline of the coconut industry is catastrophic."
He said T&T was importing coconut water from Guyana while the trees that are the photographic representations of T&T's tropical paradise image are being decimated by Red Palm mites. Apart from coconut's health benefits, he said China was experimenting with coconuts in the area of downstream industries that produce mats, rugs and soaps. American athletes gravitate to the drink over a leading sports beverage. Tilapia stock, which is advertised as a main course in foreign restaurants, had to be upgraded, too. "Tilapia farming has been completely depleted. We need to have growth and incentives."
Bharath painted a grim picture of the days when "cocoa was king," and the expression "rich as a Tobago planter" abounded. He lamented the decline in production of one of T&T's major indigenous products. "This area has been totally neglected. Some 20,000 tonnes were harvested. We are now harvesting 6,000 tonnes. It suffered from complete neglect. Acres have been abandoned." On the flip side, Bharath boasted that T&T produced the finest cocoa that attracted chocolatiers and buyers from all over the world. He lauded Dr Steve Bennett for his input into the rearing of buffalypso (a cross between a cow and an ox).
Bharath said the meat was much sought after because it had a low-fat content while the rich milk was used in the making of mozzarella cheese. In 1975, T&T produced 1,000 crates of grapefruits for exports. The reverse had taken place where the country was now importing grapefruit. The trees were almost wiped out by the Tristeza virus, the most destructive disease of citrus. "We have to ensure a Citrus Certification Programme." Later on, Bharath also said once the industry was fully revived and stakeholders' needs–including water management–met, he would not rule out the prospects of agro-tourism.
Agriculture sector: "chugging along"
Bharath said it was necessary for agriculturists and farmers "to view agriculture as a business." "We need to develop it as a business venture. We need to look at the business side of agriculture. You must have the business acumen. To make anything of it, you have to be organised properly. "Right now, the sector is chugging along. We must organise industries like a business." Bharath noted T&T's farmers were an ageing population.
The majority of local farmers were not encouraging their children to get involved in the sector. "It is quite the opposite happening in Europe. European farmers are encouraging their children to get involved. In Europe, they are held in high regard. Farmers are in the upper echelons of society." The implementation of new technological practices and the adaptation of modern skills, expertise and knowledge would greatly assist in removing farmers from sticking to the "same old pathways."