Tobagonians must get back to producing food, the Prime Minister declared on Saturday as he lamented the island’s inability to assist in meeting its food demand in the height of the covid19 pandemic.
Addressing a news conference at the Scarborough Library, Tobago, to update citizens on the fight against the virus, Dr Rowley said food was one of the Government’s major challenges in dealing with the pandemic.
“One of those challenges was to make sure people have food and that there was nobody on the lockdown at home starving,” he told reporters. Dr Rowley, who is also a farmer, recalled the Government “moved with alacrity” to get food to citizens by introducing the food support system, not just through the issuing of food cards, where they could have gone to supermarkets and bought imported items but also by making available fresh food and vegetables.
“We introduced the distribution of fresh food and vegetables, a box worth $250 and persons were given that box and a voucher so that they can go to the grocery for $250.
“Those boxes of fresh food supplied by Namdevco (National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation) were among the better issues the government dealt with.”
He added: “But you know what disappointed me here in Tobago, that you couldn’t do that here. Because there was no food being produced in Tobago to put in any box for anybody here.
“And if we have to do it in Tobago, the food had to come from Trinidad. That is what disappoints me. Tobagonians have to get back to producing food. And, if covid19 does nothing to Tobagonians and make us produce more food on this island, all's well that ends well.”
Rowley said the discussion about promoting agriculture on the island must be held at all levels of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
“When you meet Tobagonians in Tobago waiting for cucumber from Trinidad and cassava and plantain from Trinidad, you all discuss that.”
Rowley said Tobago has some of the best soil in TT but is not producing any food “so when covid comes we are more exposed than anybody else in the country.”
He said Central Government is working with the THA to address the issue, post-covid19.
Rowley said he has been talking to Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis about increasing the level of agricultural production in Tobago.
He added they have also formulated several plans and programmes.
“I don’t want to tell you tales out of school but you will be seeing changes,” Rowley assured.
DENNIS: ACTION BEING TAKEN
Since he assumed the position of Chief Secretary on May 6, Dennis has been visiting farms and farmers throughout the island.
Dennis has also underscored the importance of agriculture in revitalising Tobago’s economy post covid19.
The Chief Secretary chimed in immediately after Rowley spoke, giving an overview of his plan since elected on May 6.
Dennis said, "I think, early on, some action has already been taken. People across TT are seeing a new drive towards food production. I am on my feet as Chief Secretary; the Secretary of Agriculture is also working assiduously with this new energy and vibrance, ensuring we get out there and meet the farmers, find out what their challenges are and from the THA's end, ensure that we adjust and put the necessary infrastructure and support mechanism in place so that, in fact, we can produce more food."