THE Tobago Agriculture Society is happy with its allocation announced on Monday during the 2018/2019 Tobago House of Assembly budget presentation by Secretary for the Division of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack.
Included in the $4.74 billion budget statement, Jack said $512.3 million would go towards the Division of Food Production and Fisheries and $4.4 million to the Agricultural Incentive Programme.
In an immediate reaction, president of the Tobago Agricultural Society Macheson Neptune said the society is accustomed receiving $300,000 and an increase for 2018/2019 is a major improvement. However Neptune is not expecting the amount asked for to be approved by central government in the national budget.
“I am happy with the thought to give us an increase but I know we won’t get that amount, but we will welcome whatever increase we can get for this year. The amount we have been getting for the last couple of years couldn’t do much for the Tobago farmers under the society. I know when the figures and cuts come back from Trinidad we would not get the requested amount.
“If the division gets an increase from last year (that is good) because you know agriculture always gets the lowest allocation. If the national budget is increased for the Ministry of Agriculture, then I think Tobago farmers will also benefit to an extent, despite a (possible) decline in the allocation for the division of agriculture in Tobago.”
Neptune said he hopes this increase will be supported by the central government which he believes will drive growth needed to revitalize Tobago’s agriculture sector in time for the coming Sandals Resort. “This increase will benefit the industry to a great extent because it will show they are really serious about agriculture revitalization in Tobago. Without the additional financial support from the THA and central government, I don’t think the agriculture sector will grow.” During the budget presentation, an increase of registration for Tobago farmers was mentioned. Neptune added, “I would like to know the impact of our production figure, when we have an increase of registered farmers? Yes it is good to have an increase number of registered farmers but we don’t know if this increase will encourage and promote an increase in the agricultural production in Tobago.”
He added he was happy to know there are plans to increase production, but would like more details on what crops or livestock will be produce. “We want to have a breakdown on which areas they are focusing on and down the road we want to understand what impact this would have in terms of production.”
“Also he (Jack) mentioned the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA) and again over the years we have had this training and we are not too sure what happened to these students after they graduate because they have not provided the support needed to grow the agriculture sector on the island.”
The budget also included the establishment of a Farmers Markets at Goldsborough and Black Rock for $3.5M, the development of an Agro-Park at Friendship Estate for $10M and the Agricultural Access Roads Programme for $80M.