The highly nutritious Moruga Hill rice,—T&T’s only indigenous rice— is set to be exported internationally on a mass scale as farmers ramp up their production on the hills of Moruga.
During a function in the rice-fields at the 13mm of the Penal Rock Road in Moruga on Tuesday, the Moruga Rice cooperative led by agri-entrepreneur and chief executive officer of Caribbean Sea and Air marketing company, Mark Forgenie received the promised $317,500 grant from ExportTT to develop the industry.
The grant was presented by Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat and Moruga MP Dr Lovell Francis, a former rice planter.
Francis said the reddish, chocolate flavoured Moruga Hill rice was brought to T&T from Africa 200 years ago by the Merikins West African slaves. As payment for fighting for the British against the USA in the war of 1812, the Merikins were given lands in Moruga, where they grew the bearded rice on the hills.
The strain was lost in the United States and Francis said Moruga is the only place in the world where the rice is grown.
He said because the rice is high in fibre and iron, the diaspora has developed a taste for the rice which sells at $50 per pound. Forgenie has already started packaging the staple which is set to hit the shelves of select groceries across T&T in the near future.
Gopee-Scoon described the rice project as an exciting venture saying she was happy the rice was now being commercialised to be sold on the world market.
Saying the Government was committed to assisting with the commercialisation of the project, Gopee-Scoon said under the Research and Development Facility (RDF), Government has been supporting micro, small and medium enterprises including the Moruga Hill Rice co-operative.
“The RDF advances the ministry’s strategic objectives of growing and developing the manufacturing and services sectors,” she said.
Gopee-Scoon further committed a $50,000 grant towards achieving the geographical indication of the product. The minister added that she hoped to see the product on all supermarket shelves and across the Caribbean, Europe, Canada and the United States.
Forgenie, who formed a cooperative to market the rice, said there were currently 120 farmers planting an estimated 300 acres of rice in Moruga.
He noted that the $375,500 grant will enable more farmers to join the industry and reap financial rewards. However, he said land tenure was a problem but with the expansion of the rice industry, unemployed youths in Moruga will now have employment opportunities.
Rambharat said he will deal with the issue of tenure on an equitable basis. Rambharat advised Forgenie not to try to compete with the parboiled rice or white rice industry, adding that the Moruga Hill rice should remain a niche product. He noted that the industry had potential for success internationally, adding that he was willing to work with the farmers to achieve this.
Rambharat also said that a new grant of up to $100,000 will be made available to farmers.
“The new grant was approved by the Cabinet weeks ago and before October 1, it will be formally launched and will make a big difference on how good farmers operate,” Rambharat said.