Oropouche West MP Vidia Gayadeen-Gopeesingh said in a press release on Tuesday that "too little, too late" would be cry when citizens face empty grocery and market shelves.
Faced with questions on food security and local food production, she said, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat spoke of “the puerile view” that saving $50 million from the food import bill could be used towards developing health care.
For ordinary citizens, she pointed out, $50 million would buy more than enough beds and medical equipment. Better yet, $50 million invested in the agricultural sector would certainly improve the industry.
The minister, MP Gayadeen-Gopeesingh said, chooses to speak of competitive or comparative advantages. Hence the reason TT imports rice, hatching eggs, milk and other commodities.
One wonders, she said,why he doesn’t speak of the reasons why there is no rice production, or sugar, for that matter, when he was a senior manager at Caroni (1975) Ltd. Why wasn’t investment made in meat and egg production? Perhaps now he can explain the plan for the Aripo Livestock Farm. Did this plan get the approval of PNM friends and financiers who wanted to continue their stronghold, on the local markets, she asked. What happens when local produce is exhausted? What are the contingency plans?
While no one could have foreseen covid19, MP Gayadeen-Gopeesingh pointed out that the country should have an emergency plan in place for food security in times of natural disasters or crisis.
She said while TT's Agriculture Minister "touts plans," other governments are already looking at ways and means of safeguarding their country's food security. It is not an inconceivable scenario, she said, that major exporters close their borders and ports, freezing all trading, as it is a very real possibility with China or the US.
While TT hopes this does not materialise, she said, these are the risks when a country fails to think about contingency planning and instead, choose to depend on foreign goods for food security.
The MP pointed out that farmers whose livelihood depend on agricultural production continue to suffer as government failed to address flooding, praedial larceny, research and development and market reform.
Gayadeen-Gopeesingh said she has been following these issues and speaking with farmers, learning first-hand the many problems that face the industry. She said for too long agriculture has been treated as an afterthought and the government has scorned the hard work of farmers who provide food for the national table.
Even the Prime Minister, MP Gayadeen-Gopeesingh claimed, is unaware of the produce grown locally, seeking instead "foreign yam," while yam is grown in abundance locally.
No wonder, she said, that in this covid19 crisis the Agriculture Minister has no clue and no answers. He chooses to hide behind empty statements, she charged, even as she alleged that illegal goods are entering local markets with the added threat of foreign pests and diseases. From those to whom much is given, MP Gayadeen-Gopeesingh said, much, much more is demanded, expected and required.