COVID-19 has affected food sustainability across the world and now that economic conditions have become worse in T&T, the government says it intends to prioritize agriculture when it presents its Budget next Monday.
But farmers across the country say they have little hope that the sector could become profitable unless basic issues in the sector are addressed.
Speaking to Guardian Media on Tuesday, agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj said major issues include flooding, praedial larceny, food loss, crop quality testing, market development and field sanitation.
He noted that the budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture went from $1.324 billion in 2014 to $759 million in 2020, which represents an overcall cut of $565 million.
“Given the cuts to the Ministry of Agriculture’s allocations over the last 5 years and the waning scorecard of the beneficiaries of the State’s largesse, the promised $500 million to the agricultural sector’s Development Programme may hardly be a stimulus to wake the dead. We have to now accept, as is the fate in other countries, that there is either heaven or hell, depending on the management of our food and agriculture going forward,” he said.
Pumpkin on display for sale at the Debe Market.
Calling for inclusive national food security planning, Maharaj said the government must include all stakeholders and find a way to address all the issues affecting the sector.
Meanwhile, former public relations officer of the Beekeepers Association Vearna Gloster said it was important that technology and science play a bigger role in the production of more foods.
“Incorporating young people into agriculture at an early age is also important,” she added.
She noted that theft of hives, flooding during the wet season, the import of illegal honey, the food and drug department being unable to test honey which is a widely used food, lack of knowledge by the general public of the disadvantage of imported honey, the import of harmful gardening chemicals and destruction of forested areas were also affecting the beekeeping sector.
Gloster said she hoped the government would come up with a plan to utilized abandoned agricultural estates, encourage the use of organic compost and lessen the importation of harmful chemicals.
She also called for the utilization of technology to improve agricultural techniques.
Meanwhile, farmers say more subsidies and incentives were needed if the government was serious about boosting the sector.
Farmer Satyam Ramdeen said young people should be encouraged to engage in hydroponic and aquaponic farming.
“Lots of youths getting involved in drugs and if they had farming opportunities, they will not get into drugs and crime,” he said.
Farmer Lall Willie said the high cost of fertilizers, flooding and predial larceny were also hampering farming productivity.
“A simple thing like roads we don’t have. My tractor cannot even pass to get onto the land,” he said.
Farmer and vendor Satyan Ramdeen prepares his ground provision for sale at the Debe Market last Thursday.
He called on the government to invest in irrigation and technology.
Ramnarine Maharaj, 87, who has spent most of his life in farming said he did not believe that the government would prioritize agriculture.
“Rowley not giving nothing. We need support from the government for chemical and we did not even get that,” he said.
Farmers in St Marys and Barrackpore said predial larceny was the biggest issue. For this year over 1,000 animals have been stolen. Farmer Natalie Francois who spoke to Guardian Media last week said the technology could be utilized to stop predial larceny. However, she said many farmers could not afford to install CCTV surveillance cameras and tracking devices on their properties.
Ramraj Harripersad said market opportunities must be provided for farmers so they will be able to focus on cultivating the right crop.
“There is too much disunity in the sector,” Harripersad said.
Last month Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said T&T can look forward to a boosting of domestic agriculture and an increase in the production of fresh milk.
Government insiders say agriculture is being prioritized and will receive a larger chunk of the national pie.