The Agricultural Society (ASTT) is “very disappointed” that no policy direction on the way forward for agriculture was presented in the national budget, society president Dhano Sookoo said.
“It is not a matter of how much money has been allocated. Money is not the issue. The issue is policy. Even where monies were allocated, we are not clear on how they are to be spent,” she said.
Sookoo continued, “What I would have expected from Government was some strong policies to deal with the myriad of issues affecting the agriculture sector.” If Government is going to give people $100,000 to farm and increase production, she asked, “Where are they going to sell the produce?
"What we need in agriculture are not incentives, we need markets. You have no policy in place to protect the local market. We are competing with foreign produce where foreign farmers are given a whole lot of subsidies.” Sookoo expressed disappointment that Finance Minister Colm Imbert held no consultation with agricultural societies before presenting the budget.
Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat, she said, does not understand stakeholder participation and working cohesively in order to move the sector forward. Under his tenure, Sookoo said, divisions between different entities have been created. “Nobody knows what the ADB (Agricultural Development Bank) is doing. The ADB does not know who to give access to credit. Nobody knows what Namdevco is doing. Namdevco does not know what the farmers are producing," Sookoo said.
Former food production minister Devant Maharaj said in a statement, the measures outlined by the Finance Minister will not have any impact on the food import bill or arrest the decline in the agricultural sector. As one of the sectors to diversify the economy, Maharj said, the fiscal allocation and initiatives do not match the requirement. The sector will continue to languish under this PNM administration as it has been doing for the last two years, he said.