“It’s all about hard work and blessings,” Keshorn Walcott told a group of excited primary schoolers who asked him the secret of his success.
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Namdevco to set up greenhouse farms
Soaring prices of local produce is the main target as the National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (Namdevco) moves to establish greenhouse farms throughout T&T by the end of this month. Robert Ramsamooj, Namdevco’s chairman, who was appointed last December, said farmers would no longer be distressed by their crops withering in the dry season, or being completely wiped out by floods in the rainy season.
Describing greenhouse farming as the way forward, Ramsamooj said some 1,200 farmers had already been trained and certified in greenhouse management. These farms would be scattered throughout the country, with emphasis on flood-prone areas where crops would be most vulnerable, he explained. “Our target is to train some 2,000 farmers in all aspects of greenhouse farming...We already trained 1,200 farmers and we expect the rest to complete their training in the next six months,” Ramsamooj said.
He said the farmers would save hundreds of dollars as they would no longer have to use pesticides and other chemicals to boost crop production. “We are moving to create a healthier environment through the elimination of pesticides,” he said. “Consumers will also benefit because the goods that they buy in the market and supermarkets will be much healthier, naturally grown and free from chemicals.”
According to Ramsamooj, farmers in need of financing to set up greenhouse farms could easily access loans from the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB). “Those in need of lands could obtain leases from the EMBD (Estate Management Business Development Company),” he said. “We are making it easy in all aspects for farmers to improve themselves.” Farmers will also have the opportunity to sign two and three-year contracts to supply Namdevco with produce.
Plans to build three new packing houses
Plans are also on the drawing board to construct at least three packing houses this year to store produce, Ramsamooj said. He said there already was a packing house at Piarco, and Namdevco planned to build two others at Tabaquite and Penal.
The third site is yet to be identified.
“The packing houses will be used to regulate food prices, so when there is a glut, goods will be stored...When certain produce are scarce they will be released,” Ramsamooj said. “So the prices of goods will always remain reasonable... It will not become expensive as we see sometimes in the case of tomatoes.”
He said there were plans to collaborate with the canning industry for farmers to supply goods to various manufacturers. “Namdevco will buy the goods from farmers which, in turn, will be supplied to National Canners,” he said. Urging farmers to view themselves as businessmen rather than labourers, Ramsamooj described agriculture as a “science” conducted “above the earth.” He emphasised that the local market needed to be satisfied because T&T’s food import bill was too exorbitant.
Expressing concern that more people seemed to be moving away from farming, Ramsamooj said it should not be viewed as a menial task but one that had dignity. He said programmes such as Cepep absorbed a great deal of labour, as it was a means of making money within a shorter period of time.
Focus on infrastructural development
With the onset of the dry season, provision must be made to clear clogged irrigation water courses and develop irrigation channels to avoid massive flooding when the rainy season comes. This is the view of Norris Deonarine, president of the National Food Crop Farmers Association. He said flooding, coupled with huge losses in crops, would always occur once infrastructural development in agricultural areas was not implemented.
“Perennial flooding is always a major factor that contributes to high food prices and flooding has also affected the volume of produce that is supposed to be on the local market,” he said. “Very little has been done to clear water courses... Several areas that were not flood-prone are so now because of development of housing and commercial properties.” He claimed some of the these structures were built without proper assessment of environmental impact.
Urging the Government to play a stronger role in developing the country’s natural irrigation areas, Deonarine said a proper water management system was badly lacking. “We need a proper water management system for the protection and development of catchment areas for rainfall,” he said. “We need to build small reservoirs and artificial lakes which could be used for agricultural and commercial purposes.”
He said while there was “enough space” for prime agriculture, its usage was not maximised. “We need to harmonise some of the Government agencies, especially those who have heavy equipment like bulldozers and excavators to create efficient waterways,” Deonarine said. “Now is the time to make an objective assessment of areas heavily affected by flooding.”
Avoid food crisis
The day may come when T&T may not have enough food to feed itself. That grim warning comes from Vernon Persad, president of the Supermarkets Association of T&T, who said 81 per cent of the country’s food, including basic commodities, was imported. “To break that cycle of T&T importing almost everything is going to take a lot of effort because producing out of the country is cheaper... Other countries have that comparative advantage,” Persad said.
He said there was also a shift in the volume of goods being produced which might ultimately place the country at a major disadvantage. Saying there was a marked shift in the volume of local goods, including food crops being produced, Persad said his association intended to meet with Minister of Food Production Vasant Bharath to encourage people to grow their own food.