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Grow more of our own food

Monday, December 7, 2015

A major effort by the Government, crop and livestock farmers, wholesalers, retailers and the private sector to replace a significant portion of the $4 billion spent annually on food imports is one means of generating internal economic activity and doing so in the short to medium term.  

That the Central Bank has now officially called the recession, maybe that will give the impetus to the search for generating internal economic activity.

Stimulating agricultural production is one of two major possibilities put forward in last week’s column to get the economy moving, the other being the filling of the need for a reported 160,000 homes by a range of social and economic classes. In the instance of planning and implementing an agricultural food replacement initiative, it could be our last chance to prevent a full-scale escape from agriculture.

As advocated last week, the immediate development of a land use policy to demarcate areas to be reserved for food production is vital. However, there exists a farming and livestock sector to begin the thrust into food production.  

The problems of the sector and the areas in which the farming and livestock community need support have been articulated over and over through the decades. Land tenure rights; agricultural access roads; fiscal support for food production as articulated in the budget statement 2016; protection against praedial larceny, adequate arrangements for wholesale and retail marketing and a range of well-known problems have been crying out for attention.

Allied to food production is expanding the horticultural sector. The development and enhancement of agro-industrial production is another sub-sector of agriculture that can be expanded and contribute not only to the internal economy, but what the economists refer to as the exogenous (external for export) sector.

The government has changed the board and appointed as chairman an experienced former public servant agriculturalist to the Agricultural Development Bank. The expectation must be that action will begin to take place in relation to the productive and organised financing of food production.

Expertise and research to support farmers through extension services have been produced for decades by the Faculty of Agriculture at UWI, St Augustine; many such persons are said to end up in bureaucratic jobs at the Ministry. The quality of market facilities is in desperate need of upgrade to make them attractive places for consumers to shop.  

Tobago, with its tourism base (and we shall come to that in a moment) can be a central element of the food production programme. 

But here again, time is not on the side of action as the generations who have traditionally been involved in agriculture in Tobago have left town, many can no longer engage in agriculture and the young are selling-off farm lands to join the cash economy.

As there was in the 1960s, there has to be a campaign to inform consumers; one to assist with the transformation of tastes and habits has to be adopted; the re-cultivation of abandoned estates is needed—an effort to prevent many from being turned into housing estates and even shopping malls is necessary.

Of course it will take more than articulating such matters in a newspaper column to get the job done. But that is what an economic advisory team is there for to research and develop a sector which can eat into the $4 billion dollar food import bill to generate a range of economic activities.

Turning to the tourism industry, here is an area that can be enhanced to function as part of internal development and also to earn foreign exchange for the economy. Already, 500,000 Trinidadians go to Tobago annually. Developing the Manzinilla/Mayaro beaches, the longest strips of quality beaches in the country, is waiting to happen as the Maracas/Las Cuevas areas continue to be overcrowded and limited in the range of leisure activities which can take place there.

An internal tourism market can begin to expand in these times when foreign exchange can become hard to come by and or afforded by locals and can assuredly staunch the outflow of nationals utilizing scare foreign reserves.

As an earner of foreign exchange the local tourism industry is not merely under-developed, it’s undeveloped.   The strategy of using Trinidad as an attraction for cultural tourism and Tobago for the vacationing tourist of the leisure and eco type variety has been stated and planned for in some form or the other for a couple decades now.

Little has been done to one develop the potential or the variety of products and the physical infrastructure needed to achieve the objective of a full-fledged tourism industry. At the recent State of the Industry Tourism Conference of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation the experts advocated that Caribbean tourism destinations expand the markets from which they source visitors. China and South America with a focus on Brazil are said to have real market potential.  

Many Caribbean tourism destinations with little more than sea and sand have developed as major warm-weather venues.  Curacao, an essentially dry island has created and developed a range of attractions to host 750,000 visitors annually; Tobago gets 50,000 stay-over visitors and another 90,000 on the cruise liners.

What I have outlined are ideas and possibilities none of which are particularly new; research to seek-out the details of possibilities, planning for what is possible and profitable and implementation of plans are the challenges ahead. The government has to signal that it is doing something to stimulate the economy. 


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