N Touch
Sunday 16 June 2019
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It's not about the land

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley's claim that agriculture won't ever compete with oil and gas as a contributor to the economy is an apples and oranges comparison. The two simply can't be equated, and not just for the reason that Rowley suggested, the limited land available for agriculture.

Rowley spoke of peasant, or subsistence farming and commercial farming, which went nowhere with the local superfarms project. But bulk scale is not the only way to enter markets, as our creative and sporting talent routinely prove by taking on the world on its own terms and emerging triumphant. There is also boutique farming, the design of agricultural initiatives that play to the strengths of a country's geographical profile or cultural history. And we have powerful stories in the sector.

In 1525, Spanish colonists planted the first Criollo variety of cocoa trees in Trinidad. By 1830, this country was the third largest producer of cocoa, producing 20 per cent of the world's output. Our fame came through a hybrid product of the original Spanish plantings and the Forastero strain, the highly prized Trinitario cocoa.

The death knell of the industry came in the 1920s through a mix of natural challenges, and a collapse of local will. Witches Broom disease damaged local crops in 1928, sugar prices rose, placing a greater emphasis on the cultivation of cane and the sharp growth in the oil industry and its handsome returns led to a steady decline in the acreage under cocoa cultivation. The death of cocoa was really the passing of the plantation model, and the resurgence in cocoa production in TT is largely the result of young entrepreneurs tapping into the enormous market potential for the product, not as beans, but as refined, upscale chocolate products.

In May, the International Cocoa Organisation called on this country to defend its ranking as one of the finest producers of the bean in the world. This month is the deadline for the submission of our dossier proving our claim to a centuries old reputation. Heated competition to be the world's best at an agricultural product isn't new to this country. Most lists of superhot peppers include the 7 Pot variants, Trinidad Scorpion and Moruga Scorpion, at two million Scoville units, the second hottest pepper in the world, according to Guinness Records.

Future agriculture projects in TT might proceed profitably by either encouraging more upmarket products like these which target niche buyers, or by improving efficiencies in the local farming and distribution system that produce fresh staples and fruits for public markets and groceries.

It's never been about the land. Agriculture in this country has faltered through weak political will and uncertain, diffuse planning and support.

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