CHAIRMAN of the Cocoa Development Company (CDC) Winston Rudder says the shortage of labour in the cocoa industry can be addressed by training and employing workers attached to the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) in rural areas, as well Venezuelan migrants.
In an interview with Newsday yesterday, Rudder said a strategy has already been worked out to provide training for CEPEP workers with the National Training Agency (NTA).
"Stakeholders in the industry, including the CDC and the farmers and so on (have argued) for funds that would be spent on CEPEP in rural areas ... to be spent on supporting agriculture, so that (there is) a kind of a labour exchange mechanism in the agriculture sector," said Rudder.
The arrangement, he said, will allow for CEPEP to continue its objective of providing training and provide sustainable employment.
"So you get certified workers to work in the cocoa industry, supported by the (CEPEP) funds." With reference to migrant labour, he agreed with Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat's statement that the labour shortage can be addressed by employing Venezuelan workers on cocoa farms.
Men who appear to be Venezuelan can been seen on the outskirts of farms around the country, such as those in Aranguez, waiting to be employed on farms, Rambharat suggested at an annual symposium hosted by the Cocoa Research Centre at the University of the West Indies, last month.
"Some of the Venezuelans are particularly suited to agriculture and projects involving fisheries because of where they come from. And the farmers have said to me that the Venezuelans are trainable, they follow instructions, they're willing to work," he said then.
Rudder noted that there were historical links to Venezuelans working in the cocoa industry. "The origin (of Cocoa Panyol) had to do with the fact that Venezuelans were recruited here (in the 19th Century) to supplement the labour pool to work in the cocoa estates. Out of that came a whole heap of cultural Venezuelan attachment. That has always been part of our history." TT enjoyed its prime as a cocoa producer thanks to Venezuelan labour and skill.
"Fast forward to the current reality, which is that for a multiplicity of reasons, the agricultural (sector), not only cocoa, in the country has not been able to be attractive enough to pay for labour. And the price of labour has largely been dominated by the development of oil and gas and manufacturing sectors in TT, so that not many want to pay high prices for labour, although in order to live a (certain) lifestyle in an economy like ours, workers require a decent wage."
There are several "good farms" and estates locally that already employ workers from Africa and Venezuela, he noted.
"The fact of the matter is yes, the average Trinidadian, quite apart from the wage structure, does not see agricultural work as something that he or she would like to be engaged in. And in that context, it does provide an opportunity for migrant labour."