THE AWARD of grant funding by the Ministry of Trade and Industry to a local company producing Moruga Hill Rice is a rare example of the kind of approach needed to diversify our economy while simultaneously safeguarding our heritage.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Trade and Industry presented producers of the rice, Caribbean Sea and Air Marketing, with $317,500 in grant funding from the ministry’s recently launched Research and Development Facility (RDF). The revised RDF was launched by the ministry in November 2017 to stimulate and support micro, small and medium enterprises and to advance the strategic objectives of growing and developing the manufacturing and services sectors. To date, among the disbursals has been $317,500 to Caribbean Sea and Air Marketing and $370,000 to SafetyNet Ltd.
But any qualified business involved in the areas covered by the grant – ranging from food and drink manufacture to printing and publishing – may apply for funding. Over 300 private sector enterprises have expressed interest, according to the ministry.
Caribbean Sea and Air Marketing intends to increase the use of technology in its manufacturing process, while SafetyNet will develop a prototype for an information communication technology-enhanced process safety management system. The enterprise provides safety consultancy and general contracting services.
The grant to the Moruga Hill Rice producers, in particular, is especially timely given a recent report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which noted a strong recovery in gas production but dampened non-energy sector returns. The IMF’s diagnosis has led to renewed calls by economists for greater diversification, heightening expectations ahead of Monday’s budget. But the ministry’s decision to support the production of Moruga Hill Rice is a good move not only because it makes economic sense.
Moruga Hill Rice is a relatively hardy, versatile plant that can grow in backyards instead of wet, marshy fields. The rice thrives in light soils and can mature in as little as three months, so is a good survival crop. Historically, the rice was a staple of millions of enslaved Africans in the Americas.
Merikins began planting this rice here decades ago. After World War I, the rice had all but disappeared in the US, a victim of cheaper imports that were easier to grow and of the Great Migration in which millions of African-Americans left the rural South. But the rice survived in Trinidad. Once thought to have been lost, it is now poised to make a big comeback in our largest trading partner. We are in a prime position to capitalise on this crop’s resurgence.
The ministry’s grant is a healthy serving of good sense, reminding us of how our unique place in the world, our unique history, can be leveraged as a resource to return us to the path of economic growth. More please.