Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat yesterday disclosed that the country’s $5.4 billion food import bill includes approximately $669 million in alcohol imports. He made the disclosure in his contribution to the budget debate in the Senate.
Rambharat said while many people believe the food import bill is his business, “I don’t consume $669 million in alcohol every year. So it’s not only me drinking up that tab.” He also said that contrary to what many people believe, the food import bill is not about “sweet pepper and cassava, “ but many other items go into that bill and all consumers have the power to join the ministry in supporting local farmers and their products.
Rambharat said a farmer in Tobago recently won a global gold medal for the best dairy milk chocolate bar and this shows there is promise for domestic agriculture.
Rambharat declared it is time that as consumers, “We give our mouth a rest and let our money do the talking.”
One of his most painful experiences as minister, he said, continues to be $400 million wasted by the Estate Business Management Development Corporation (EMBD) on agricultural access roads in 2015, under the former People’s Partnership government. The poor quality of the roads in question, he claimed, made people believe they were “paved with toilet paper.”
He told senators about his visit to farmers in Orange Grove during the recent flooding, saying flooding still occurred even in areas where remedial works were previously done. The minister opined that security of land tenure for farmers is something which would ensure farmers do all that is required to properly manage their lands.
While efforts were made to encourage former Caroni (1975) Ltd workers to become farmers by providing them with two-acre plots, he said, some of these people did not take up agriculture. He added that highly productive farmers were left behind in this exercise.
Rambharat identified the increase in the number of farmers’ markets as one of several initiatives the ministry is pursuing to boost domestic agriculture and encourage farmers to see agriculture as a business they could benefit from. He said successive administrations, public servants and other stakeholders must accept responsibility for the current state of the agriculture sector, and only through a collective effort could the sector be improved and contribute more to TT’s economy.