On Tuesday January 23 instant, The University of the West Indies will honour the memory of its first vice chancellor, Sir Arthur Lewis, who also won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979.
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‘M&D greenhouses to lower food prices’
Marketing & Distributing (M&D) will be introducing greenhouse technology to local farmers which can result in lower food prices for consumers. Using greenhouse technology, farmers can produce higher quality and quantity of crops indoors, year round. Trinidad has just a few greenhouses in operation, but M&D can install at least 50 before the end of the year if farmers who plant short term crops are interested.
M&D, a subsidiary of the Neal and Massy Group of Companies, has expressed delight in its initiative, having teamed up with Atlas Manufacturing in the United States to import and install affordable greenhouses for local farmers who do not have the available land space. The introduction of the greenhouses can bring about a revolution for farmers, who can reap great rewards.
On Wednesday, Fareed Rahaman, technical director, Agricultural and Industrial Department of M&D, said the idea to work with Atlas Manufacturing came about after they were approached by farmers who used greenhouse technology before. “The farmers told us the problems they were having. They wanted us to retrofit a greenhouse suited to our climate.”
Rahaman said the greenhouses the farmers used were brought into the country through the Ministry of Agriculture and National Agro Chemicals a few years ago. However, they had a problem with its temperature, which interfered the growth of crops. “The yield that farmers were expecting, did not materialise,” Rahaman said. Back then, the farmer paid over $100,000 to have the greenhouse imported and installed.
The new greenhouse is expected to cost $250,000. “The upside of this, is that, farmers can get a 50 per cent rebate through the Ministry of Food Production incentive programme. So it will only cost about $125,000,” Rahaman said.
A tonne of opportunities for farmers
Rahaman said an improved version of the greenhouse, equipped with 13-foot side walls, extractor fans and meshing to allow proper ventilation will be imported to better suit the local farmer. The greenhouse’s dimension is 30 feet in width and 168 feet in length, which will be much narrower to what was used in the past. “The narrower the greenhouse is the faster the air flow,” Rahaman explained.
If the farmer is cramped for space, the greenhouse can be installed comfortably on a lot of land. Installation can take two weeks in the dry season and up to six weeks if there is constant rain. The import time is six weeks. The covering and walls of the greenhouse is plastic, which has a lifespan of four years. “This greenhouse will have a tonne of opportunities and benefits to farmers,” Rahaman said.
Rahaman said a farmer can produce weekly, between 800 to 1,000 pounds of tomatoes from 1,000 plants, far more than what can be reaped outdoors. “In the rainy season what you find is that prices of crops tend to go up. If you want to maintain crops at reasonable prices throughout the year, you would have to go undercover.” In the wet season, Rahaman said, soil nutrients diminish and erosion increases, which works against the farmers and their overall output.
Cheaper food for consumers
Neal and Massy communications officer Candace Ali says M&D will also advise farmers how to manage its irrigation system, use fertilisers and chemicals effectively, as well as plant and market its produce. “It is a full-service business really to support the farmers to ensure its success. The concept of the greenhouse is to use far less chemicals so crops will be organic. It is the healthier way to go. Also we are looking at cheaper food on the table of consumers and reducing our country’s $4 billion food import bill.”
Ali said using greenhouse technology farmers can have a higher yield and better quality of crops. She added that studies had shown that crops grown in greenhouses tended to have a longer shelf life, excellent quality and were larger, as opposed to crops planted outdoors. Another benefit to be derived for the farmer, Ali said, was that crops would be grown in a protected environment. “So there will be little room for praedial larceny by the criminals.”
The launch of the greenhouse will take place this Friday in Wallerfield, at the home of a farmer. M&D will have one of the greenhouses on display for viewing.