If T&T’s agriculture sector has to move forward, policies are needed for supermarkets to buy from farmers and private sector investment is also necessary to advise farmers on agricultural planning as is successfully done in St Lucia and Jamaica, says Agricultural Society president Dhanoo Sookoo.
This was among recommendations Sookoo made to Parliament’s Land and Physical Infrastructure committee yesterday. The team interviewed officials of the Society, Agricultural Development Bank and Tobago House of Assembly (Fisheries/Forestry division) on how far non-traditional farming methods—including digital agriculture—have gone.
Sookoo said the society represents 10,000 farmers. She said the upcoming budget can be as high as $60b or $70b but it won’t help agriculture which needs marketing, financing and policies to encourage farmers in modern agriculture techniques and the Agriculture Ministry also needs to do more.
JSC member Nigel de Freitas, taking issue with some ADB approaches, said T&T knows what to do in agriculture but doesn’t understand the business of agriculture. JSC’s Rushton Paray said quantum leaps are needed since old practices won’t suffice for the sector ahead.
Society member Ronald Chan said a generation gap exists where older farmers use traditional methods and younger ones are moving to hydrophonics and aquaculture. Sookoo said there are no policies to support technology-driven agriculture though the society is working with ADB, UWI and Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry (Eciaf) to find mechanisms for financing which would encourage investment.
She said financing and the issue of land tenancy need to be sorted out. Many farmers are interested in new technology, but the major hindrance is financing.
Sookoo said interest is low since farmers mostly believe in traditional methods and there’s no policy to ensure market availability for goods produced with modern methods which are slightly more expensive to cultivate. Sookoo said St Lucia has eight supermarkets and its private sector runs them. That sector encourages farmers, advises on what’s viable to plant, does financing, training and greenhouse establishment and buys the produce in a sustainable programme.
Sookoo said Jamaica’s Sandals resorts have a similar arrangement. She noted Cassava Bammy and other Jamaican dishes feature more on commercial Jamaican menues than French fries.
She said digital methods can address food security, production and Forex issues, but the issues need attention.
Chan told the JSC that modern practices will take a couple years to get going. He said he learned by trial and error since the Agriculture Ministry didn’t lead the way and there’s no model farm for instance.
Sookoo recommended a financing mechanism for UWI/Eciaf graduates to launch greenhouses. She suggested a fund to support youths who lack land tenancy and also suggested Government free-up unused packhouses for farmers to grade goods. Sookoo said a stakeholder committee—including WASA input on water issues—to map the future is also needed.