THE EDITOR: The Minister of Finance indicated that one of the objectives in the 2017/18 budget was to spread the burden of adjustment across most sectors of our society.
One may conclude that the punitive measures outlined were perhaps not the best way to address declining revenue. The minister may want to consider investing in areas that has the potential to earn income and change our economic circumstances rather than imposing fines and taxes to sustain an insatiable appetite for foreign goods.
The days of relying on the energy sector as the major contributor to our revenue stream is over and there is need to explore innovative ways to earn foreign exchange.
Previously, I indicated that a properly managed tourism package can be a major contributor towards earning hard currency. Another area that can drastically reduce our demand for foreign goods and increase revenue is agriculture.
TT is a major importer of feed, eggs and accessories to support our poultry industry. In addition, most of our beef and pork is imported. We import citrus juices, coffee, rice, potatoes and bananas. All of this must be paid for with our limited foreign exchange.
Perhaps it is time to consider leasing out large acres of the Caroni lands for the cultivation of corn. That will reduce the demand for feed for our poultry industry. It may be necessary to subsidise this activity. That cost however will not affect our foreign exchange supply as the subsidy will be in TT dollars.
Similarly, specific acreages ought to be identified and leased to farmers for the cultivation of citrus, coffee, coconuts, bananas, ground provision and cocoa. These are all crops that were once grown in large quantities on TT and exported.
Immediate consideration should be given to cultivating sugar cane again so that at the very least we would be self-sufficient in sugar and produce enough raw materials to sustain our rum industry.
The Caroni Plains are open grasslands that can be converted into grazing grounds for livestock with minimal investment. In a short time, TT can be self-sufficient in the production of most types of meat and meat products.
Investment in agriculture provides jobs, ensures food security, reduces the food import bill, positively impacts land use, minimises flooding, encourages food processing, supports a manufacturing and service industry and has the potential to be a major earner of foreign exchange.
The new agricultural plan must be much more than simply giving lands to farmers to plant whatever they wish. There is immediate need to identify marketable crops, provide land and access to capital for food processing, set production standards to ensure that goods produced can be competitive on the international market and subsidise the industry so that the activity is attractive to investors.
Our lumber and fishing industries need immediate attention and planning so that they can be major contributors to a revitalised agricultural sector.
Agriculture ought to be one of the pillars in the divestment of our economy as our nation joins with the rest of the world in reducing the dependence on oil and gas.
STEVE ALVAREZ via email