The Tobago agriculture sector needs to take advantage of the incentives listed by Minister of Finance Colm Imbert during Monday's 2020/2021 budget, to penetrate the Trinidad market.
President of the Tobago Agriculture Society Dedan Daniel told Newsday on Tuesday, despite the $148 million decrease in the Tobago House of Assembly's allocation, the island must be optimistic about its future in food production.
Commenting on the budget, Daniel described the allocations as "practical and realistic" given the economic challenges caused by covid19.
"We need, as a Tobago agriculture sector, to take better advantage of our reputation for producing healthy, wholesome food to first feed ourselves, penetrate the Trinidad market and seek export frontiers."
He added, how Tobago reacts will have a huge impact going forward.
"This has serious implications for us in terms of how we plan and create pathways for resetting the economy and putting it on a trajectory of growth."
He is pleased that agriculture was listed as a pillar for national recovery and growth post-covid19, and welcomed the 70 per cent increase in allocation to the sector.
In his presentation, Imbert announced the Ministry of Agriculture would be given $1.198 billion along with a $500 million agriculture stimulus package in 2021.
To enhance the food security in Tobago, Imbert said the allocation to the assembly in the upcoming fiscal year provides for special incentives for their farmers through development of the agro-processing sector by the formation of the Tobago Agribusiness Development Company.
Imbert also spoke of plans to expand the agricultural access road programme and for the provision of financial assistance to small and medium enterprises in the agricultural sector; and the infusion of technology, modern farming techniques and research in agriculture.
Daniel said if the island builds on the opportunities, Tobago's agriculture sector would be "poised to make an increased contribution to GDP, which currently stands at 0.7 per cent."
He told Newsday he hopes to develop a strategic plan to double Tobago's contribution in food production within ten years.
"Crucial to all of this," Daniel said, "is the implementation, which we as a nation have had immense challenges with."
He said the THA must seriously deliberate how and where to spend its allocation "to derive the best value for money."
He added, "It's crucial, with internal self-government looming, that we treat food and nutrition security as a priority. That will require the rethinking of our usual approaches; social re-engineering of our tastes and consumption habits, especially amidst our high import bill; our productivity levels within as a sector; the vital linkages in the sector-agro processing; tourism; the school feeding programme; investment in and support for farmers, who despite decades-old challenges remain committed to the sector."
For Tobago to get to this point, Daniel said there must be a vision to revitalise its agriculture sector enough to boost the island's economy.
"That vision should include aspects of resiliency, productivity, use of emerging technology, competitiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship, leadership and governance, inclusiveness, discipline, to name a few. This will create a clear pathway needed to emerge out of the crisis we face, better and stronger.
"The infrastructure supporting food production has to first be in place, these includes: inputs irrigation, fertiliser (organic), land for production, access roads with utilities, funding mechanisms following the incubator model, abattoir facilities, and technical support in climate-smart food production techniques, among others to drive the sector."