The closure of schools and restaurants is having a devastating ripple effect on farmers who are now struggling to find buyers for their produce.
At Rock Road, Penal, farmer Rakesh Manick said he had 450 heads of lettuce left and no one to buy.
Manick said he was fearful about going to the Debe market to wholesale his produce because congregating could put him at risk for COVID-19.
Manick said usually he provides 1,000 heads of lettuce to a single supplier who sells it to restaurants and supermarkets. However, most of the restaurants in South Trinidad have been forced to close because people are no longer dining out.
“I have sold a few hundred heads but I still have 450 heads to sell and I do not have a buyer,” Manick said.
Another vendor Jamraj Hosein said he too was having difficulty in selling his chive and chadon beni.
“I don’t know what to do with my crop. I have nobody to sell to. I plan to put some of it on my van and sell it at the roadside but my wife thinks it is unsafe to be in the public at this time,” Hosein said.
A source at the National Agricultural Marketing Development Company said they have received scores of phone calls from farmers asking for assistance in selling their crops.
“We are documenting a list of all the farmers and their crops and we are trying to link them with potential buyers. We have had numerous calls. The problem is many people are not willing to come to the market to drop off their produce because of the risk of COVID-19,” the source added.
Meanwhile, farmers in central Trinidad said they too have devised their own means to sell produce left behind because of the closure of restaurants.
Large scale farmer Anderson Singh, of Connector Road said, “We have set up a lot of roadside stalls and people are buying their produce and not getting out of their cars. People are not coming to the markets and we are hearing that they may have to shut down the Central market.”
He advised southern farmers to also do the same, noting that it may also be a good idea for the Government to set up designated areas where farmers can come to sell under strict guidelines.
Singh said he was expecting agricultural inputs to become scarce in three months.
“Fertilisers, insecticides and fungicides come in from China, Italy, Belgium and we need those to produce our crops. If this becomes scarce we need to start cultivating other crops like ground provisions, cassava, sweet potato, yam and eddoes,” he added.
He noted that dasheen bush is also a good crop to plant to supplement a family’s food supply.
Singh explained that everyone has to go back to eating local. He said the $5 billion annual food import bill will have to be cut.
Meanwhile, agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj said government must move swiftly to put a food crisis plan in place.
“While there is some data available through NAMDEVCO and perhaps the ministry, the sector is not structured in a manner for us to know at a moment’s notice, in an inventory style, the volume, variety and geographic distribution of all our locally-grown and raised food supplies,” Maharaj said.
He added, “In the absence of such organisation, individual farmers will seek to protect their livelihoods by having to scamper to secure buyers and markets, opening them to exploitation, losses, disenchantment and more dangerously, underinvestment in the short and medium term. Combined, it suggests that our experts should be considering price, production, and market volatility resulting in food chain crisis.”
Contacted for comment, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat said he will consider other options to facilitate farmers.
“I have been saying this everyday. The farmers and other markets are being kept open. I would add others of I have to and NAMDEVCO is facilitating all registered farmers who would like to sell,” he said.