Government can invest more heavily in the agriculture sector to help farmers produce more, which would help reduce the country’s billion-dollar food import bill. But at the end of the day, people in TT must be willing to consume what is produced locally.
This was the view of Prime Minister Dr Rowley as he spoke “live” on radio station i95 FM yesterday, with host Natalee Legore. He said farmers are willing to produce more so they could help bridge the gap for TT’s need for foreign exchange but a cultural conversation and conversion needs to take place.
“Nobody forces anybody to eat anything in this country. Much of what we consume is imported and therefore there is a foreign exchange consumption.” Rowley said investing more into agriculture will not make much of a difference if people intend to consume foreign items instead of local.
“We eat flour which is imported wheat. We eat rice which is largely imported because we don’t have the capacity here to be self sufficient in rice. We eat all kinds of refined products imported from abroad. The local produce we eat is what you buy in the market, the fresh produce. Outside of that, that is where the huge import bill is.
“There was a time when we produced coconut oil and lived on it comfortably. Somewhere along the way we converted our use to soya oil, canola oil, corn oil...all imported.” He said that according to Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, the poultry industry accounts for 40 to 50 per cent of this country’s agriculture output, but to what end? He said TT imports eggs, feed and medicine to rear chickens.
“There was a time when we fed ourselves ground provisions. If you look at what is produced now, you have to make special efforts to try to produce more of that and hope when we produce it, it would be consumed in preference to imported white potatoes.”
Rowley said people who are comfortable in air-conditioned rooms, love to talk about agriculture, but agriculture requires a certain amount of “muscle and sweat.”
“We are short on farmers, we need more farmers and we need to use modern technology instead of the drudgery of long time farming such as using hoes to dig the soil.”
Told of complaints by farmers that they did not have land tenure, Rowley said Government distributed thousands of acres of land to ex-Caroni workers with the understanding that they were going into farming.
“They have tenure. Where is the production from that?”