President of the Tobago Agricultural Society, Murchison Neptune says farmers in Tobago would be able to supply produce to feed everybody on the island soon as demand caused by the inter-island transport woes has encouraged them increase production substantially.
Following establishment of an Agricultural Revitalisation team to rebuild a robust agricultural sector on the island by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) last May, Neptune had said that farmers will need at least six months from then to deliver on increased production.
The Revitalisation programme was announced in the context of the impending arrival of the Sandals resort to Tobago, and an opportunity for Tobago farmers supply the hotel as well as meeting the needs of Tobagonians.
However, last Thursday, Neptune revealed that the Revitalisation programme has stalled, and that farmers were told in January that a new implementation team must be put in place before anything could be done.
Since then, the farmers have been working on their own, he said, identifying challenges, looking at criteria in terms of international standards, and contractual arrangements that are needed to boost production.
“We are still waiting on the Chief Secretary (Kelvin Charles) to put that (revitalisation) team in place and have it activated. While we are waiting on that, the farmers have continued to mobilise, given the situation with the boat.
“We may not be able to provide all the crops but there are certain crop areas that I think we will be self-sufficient in, so we will master those areas, try to be self-sufficient to supply in large
quantities. In this way we can be able to feed ourselves,” he told Newsday Tobago.
“We have decided to take charge of the opportunities being presented to us, seeing that the importation of food from Trinidad has dropped.
“We are also trying to push land access for farmers who need land to begin production. Farmers who have not been utilising their lands, it’s either they start utilising it or they give it to other serious farmers. We are playing our part, but we need more assistance from the Tobago House of Assembly to push for an increase of production of food in Tobago,” Neptune said.
He pointed to increased production of lettuce, dasheen, dasheen bush, chive, celery, cabbage, sweet peppers, pimentos, cassava and potatoes within the past six months.
“What the Chief secretary would have done was linked what we produce to the school feeding programme, this includes the introduction of cassava and salt fish and the children liked it,” Neptune also reported.
He noted, however, continuing challenges for the farmers.
“The farmers are still plagued with that pest called agouti eating the roots crops, the iguana eating the leafy crops, also the parrot and Cocrico that damage the peas.
“The farmers are continuing to complain of praedial larceny. Although we have farmers willing to increase their production, the authorities need to work with these farmers to minimise these problems that threaten their chances of increasing production. They get frustrated something especially when they are not getting support.”
Neptune also notes that farmers were having difficulty in accessing loans from the Agriculture Development Bank (ADB). “You heard the minister announce a $100,000 grant for the farmers but up this time, you haven’t heard any updated information on how Tobago farmers can access this grant,” he said.
He added that farmers were also having problems with sourcing fertilizers, seedlings and other equipment for their farms due to the ineffective sea bridge.
“But despite all these problems, Tobago farmers as showing a significant amount of determination to meeting the demands of Tobagonians and hopefully Trinidadians,” he said.