The agriculture sector in Tobago needs funding, support and proper training of stakeholders to drive a revitalisation plan to boost food production and make the sector great again.
This was the contention of Technical Officer in the Food Production and Fisheries Division, Karl Murray, in his contribution to an enquiry into Tobago’s agriculture and fishing sectors by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Land and Physical Infrastructure at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex in Scarborough last Wednesday.
Food Production Secretary Hayden Spencer did not attend the hearing.
Murray also said a dire shortage of labour for the sector, caused by the bulk of Tobagonians seeking stable jobs with the Tobago House of Assembly, was hindering revitalisation of the sector.
“Today we have a problem with the availability of agricultural labour,” he admitted, also noting that many of the farmers have been unable to adapt to modern technology such that the transition to a modern production system was slow and the fallout high.
Murray said the THA was attempting to encourage young farmers to engage in the agriculture and have been providing training for over ten years to this end.
“Once produce enters the Trinidad market from Tobago, it is of high quality. So we have been trying in many ways to boost Tobago’s agricultural competitiveness through branding. We are trying to encourage and have the involvement of young people in projects using technology to show them that agriculture is not so demeaning as they think it is,” he said.
Murray said a revitalisation plan was expected to be submitted to the THA in one month.
Murray also denied nepotism for distribution of lands for agriculture production.
“Many individuals who apply for lands do not meet the requirement and are not suitable. There is a difference
between a hobby and wanting to engage in commercial agricultural production,” he said.
President of the Tobago Agricultural Society, Murchison Neptune told the JSC that the atrocious state of the agricultural sector in Tobago was due to years of neglect.
Neptune listed unavailability to lands, inadequate water supply, high cost of inputs, praedial larceny, insufficient marketing and low retail options, pest control and lack of access roads as major factors which have caused the industry’s demise and which he said have discouraged many farmers away from food production in Tobago.
Tobago Agro-Processors Association chairman, Darilyn Smart, suggested that the sector would benefit from a fully functional agro-processing lab for testing purposes and that consideration should be given to having training in agro-processing included in primary, secondary and tertiary level education programmes on the island.