Dedan Daniel, newly elected president of the Tobago Agricultural Society, has said one of his major focuses is to attract young people to agriculture by using technology.
Since taking up the post in January, he realised most farmers in Tobago are between 55 and 70, and said this leaves food production on the island in a crisis, as young people are showing little to no interesting in producing their own food.
He said the society currently has a programme in a number of primary schools in Tobago and is focusing on recruiting members as young as 17.
So, he said, “We are not going to do agriculture the traditional way. We will be using technology, since it seems to appeal (to) more young persons. We are talking about things like aeroponics, hydroponics, aquaponics. These are vertical agriculture that takes up less space, less water, less time and less labour. This is what we are going to push.”
Daniel said currently Tobago produces 20 per cent of the food it consumes, and the other 80 per cent is imported from Trinidad.
“Our core business is the marketing of agriculture produce, so towards that end we have developed the Market Price Guarantee programme, where we are going to be working with farmers in certain areas to buy their products are a minimum market price and taking it through the supermarkets, vegetables stores, prisons, schools or hospitals.”
As president, he said he has a mandate to move the island’s production up within the next three years. The agriculture sector currently contributes one per cent to the island’s GDP. Daniel said another focus is to move this figure up to four per cent in 2020.
“We are going to help farmers boost production, and one of the things that frustrates and challenges this move is the aspect of markets for farmers' produce and access to fertile land and roads. We will be working with the Tobago House of Assembly to co-ordinate extension support in some of the projects in priority areas so that we will be able to unlock the product potential on the island.
“When we go through the figures, we realise demand is quite seasonal for certain commodities, so we would want to plant their production in such a place where they can even out the plan and have price stability.”
He said the goal is to open a market in Trinidad, where there is a higher demand.
“The Trinidad market is bigger, open and broad, much more than in Tobago. Additionally, we have a reputation of having food that is more healthy and wholesome. We want to hit the value train in terms of the major supermarket lines to get our food into their space.”
He said within three years Tobago will have a high level of food security and the island will grow and eat its own food.
“We won’t be able to grow everything, since there might be better growing conditions in Trinidad, and it might make sense to grow particular crops here. We want to go with the concept of specialisation and importing whatsoever we are not good at producing.”