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Saturday 19 October 2019
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Time for growth in agriculture

LAST week Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat noted a $100 million in private sector investment in agriculture. Counted in that impressive figure is a public-private partnership between the Aripo Livestock Station and Marilissa Farms, an investment of more than $30 million, and an investment of $20 million in duck farming by Central Farms.

The ministry’s ability to allocate land and to deliver proper land tenure, Rambharat explained, is critical and when it works, “they will make the investment and that is the direction we have to go.”

That would be a welcome improvement in the Ministry of Agriculture’s approach to developing the business in Trinidad. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work. Lamenting the performance of his ministry in May, Rambharat said that while Cabinet had granted approval for the expansion by 15 acres of Central Farms, a major duck farming enterprise, the letter of offer had not been delivered yet.

“At the heart of farming is land tenure,” he said.

The Agriculture Minister had, in February, apologised for the shortfalls of his team of 5,000 in engaging with the nation’s farmers and the lack of a dedicated food safety division to monitor food quality and authenticity.

Far too much of the ministry’s time is consumed with handwringing over the difficulties facing the sector. Last week the Agriculture Minister promised to reach out to Curtis Ramsawak, who had to sell his pigs because of a lack of water, and expressed concern over the robbery of cassava farmer, Dexter Nicholls, which gutted the Cumuto business. Nicholls had suffered three previous robberies. and water challenges in farming are continuous. More of the Ministry’s time and budget allocation must address the major infrastructural issues that hamper agriculture development in TT.

Five months ago, farmers at Orange Grove Estate undertook major flood mitigation and irrigation measures on their lands, paying for heavy equipment to dredge massive channels to manage water. These are the projects that the ministry’s foot soldiers should be busying themselves with, ensuring at the macro level that farmers have a fair chance at bringing their goods successfully to market.

More must be done to establish dedicated police patrols that make praedial larceny less attractive and increase security for farmers in remote locations.

Retention ponds that harness heavy rainfall to make water available for farming should made a priority with a refreshed effort at maintaining access roads. Such real-world initiatives would go some distance, along with a more robust and streamlined system of regularising land tenure, in improving and encouraging agricultural investment.

The Ministry of Agriculture must lead the development of farming in TT, clearing a path through both undeveloped state lands and a recalcitrant bureaucracy to enable entrepreneurship and development in the sector.

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