To get into farming in Trinidad, you will probably have to squat.
Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat confirmed as much to Guardian Media.
"A significant number of our best farmers are squatting. We call them recognised squatters because they are in a programme of regularisation."
The state of agriculture in the country came into focus last Wednesday when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said there was not enough land to facilitate a farming industry on a wide enough level to supplement our economy.
"There are farms around the world that are bigger than Trinidad and Tobago," said Rowley at the Alutech Research and Development launch in Tamana.
But land tenure continues to be a problematic issue the industry faces. Thousands of farmers have faced challenges getting regularised, Rambharat confirmed.
"But at the heart of anything we do in agriculture, land tenure is number one. That is my focus. Our most productive farming families are squatters or farmers (whose) land leases expired decades ago," said Rambharat.
It has been a long-running issue, in 2016, a Joint Select Committee was told that some farmers had been waiting over 15 years to be regularised.
Rowley also suggested farming did not appear very attractive to the younger generation due to the nature of the work.
But according to Rambharat, the land issue may be the greater turn-off.
"There are new farmers - those bold enough to squat," said Rambharat, who explained that work had been done to get those farmers regularised, but it was a slow process.
"So far, our work has led to about 500 agriculture plots being approved by Cabinet for lease to farmers already producing on those plots and there are thousands of files which are at different stages of progress," said the Minister.
There were other elements of bureaucracy that needed to be addressed.
"More importantly our work to move away from old and large paper files is progressing well and soon - next Friday- I will distribute the first electronic access cards which will allow farmers to access their electronic files."
Agriculture was allocated $780 million in Monday's budget, while it was an increase from the $544 million granted in fiscal year 2017/2018, it was still one of the lower allocations in the budget.
However, in the wake of the Prime Minister's comments, public commentary has shifted to lack of development of the agriculture sector.
Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj reposted his address at the opening ceremony of a seminar "Development Policy and Planning in Agriculture" in China last month, after Rowley's comments last Wednesday.
In that speech, Maharaj stressed the importance of farming with regard to establishing food security.
"While oil and gas have been the driver of our economy, according to local statistics, primary agriculture allegedly only contributes 0.3% of our national GDP. The contribution of the overall food and beverage industry is never really discussed in relation to GDP or even non-energy GDP. "
Maharaj told Guardian Media that state of agriculture could hardly be a surprise given the lack of focus it had received.
"It means that after treating the sector this way all these years, of course, there is nothing we can immediately rely on to bolster 1.3 million people and our economy," said Maharaj.
The food import bill has consistently crossed $5 billion since 2011.
Rambharat said there were other factors apart from farming which impacts the import bill.
"The responsibility for lowering the food import bill rests with food producers and consumers. A significant part of the food import bill is uncontrollable because they are food staples which we either cannot produce or cannot produce in quantities and at prices required," said Rambharat.
The agriculture sector also was hit with setbacks due to natural disasters over the past year, a fact Maharaj noted in his speech.
"My country also endured an earthquake recently and serious flooding events in 2017 across the country but both more impressively damaged agricultural areas and in some cases, made arable lands inaccessible," said Maharaj.
Rambharat also admitted this made it difficult for the ministry to do assessments on how much land was available for agriculture at this time.
"Without reliable data, it is difficult to measure progress and bad weather twice last year was a set back in time and the money we spent to assist farmers to recover," he said.