LOCAL farmers were being trained and prepared to have their fresh produce exported to the US says National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (Namdevco) CEO Nirmalla Debysingh-Persad.
She was speaking yesterday as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) examined the audited accounts of Namdevco for the period 2008-2011 during a meeting at the Parliament building, Port of Spain.
Debysingh-Persad said Namdevco sent a team to Canada to begin the registration process and seek opportunities to trade with the country. She said under food safety and export Namdevco was currently developing a good agricultural practices programme for TT that was certifiable and would be audited by foreign auditors.
“The purpose of this TT gap programme – as we loosely call it right now – is to ensure that we open export market opportunities for our exporters specifically into the US market under the (US) Food Safety and Modernisation Act.”
Debysingh-Persad said the act required that exporters were trained and guided by its seven rules. She said Namdevco had attempted to train local stakeholders on the seven rules and were attempting to prepare exporters to meet the US guidelines for fresh produce into the US market. She added the company hoped the process would open opportunities for regional and European markets.
She said many millions of pounds of local produce had been exported into US and Canada but with the US act local farmers would have to abide by the requirements.
Debysingh-Persad said there were approximately 13,000 farmers in this country and more than 500 daily utilised Namdevco facilities and 2,300 were registered with Namdevco’s farm certification and monitoring programme.
PAC chairman Dr Bhoe Tewarie asked if Namdevco had data on all 13,000 farmers but Debysingh-Persad said the corporation only had information on the 2,300 registered farmers.
Namdevco ICT manager Prakash Ragbir said the National Agricultural Marketing Information System (NAMISTT)had the capability to have all farmers in TT in the system but the challenge was to have people to collect the data across the country and enter it into the system.
Debysingh-Persad also spoke about setting up a Namdevco office in Tobago and setting up an ICT platform to assist farmers in diagnosing diseases on the field. She also said the local commodities in high demand were hot peppers, dasheen leaves and melongene.
PAC vice chairman Taharqa Obika said it was “reprehensible” Namdevco, a marketing company, had a number of marketing positions vacant and, therefore, did not have marketing executives to provide their expertise to the CEO.
Tewarie said he found it “a little troubling” there was such a lack of data about farmers in the TT and who was operating on State lands, on their own lands and outside the system.
“Unless we can deal with these problems I don’t see how we can go forward.”