AGRICULTURE Minister Clarence Rambharat said his main objective as a minister is to make existing farmers better through granting them land tenure, which will give them the stability they need to reshape the sector.
Rambharat was speaking at a Let’s Talk Agriculture webinar of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) TT on Wednesday, under the theme Boosting T&T’s economy through Agriculture.
He said there are three major areas of focus in terms of giving support to the agricultural sector. The first was good governance, which involved proper running of running of NAMDEVCO and other state entities in a way that represents the needs of the farmers, putting research done by CARIRI and other institutions into policy.
The second area was improving the ability of the ministry to respond and provide support by putting systems in place to mitigate some of the challenges faced by farmers, including climate-controlled farming, defensive mechanisms against flooding, labour saving devices, access to breeding stock, access to technical support and knowledge, forestry licenses for felling trees, infrastructure like restrooms and chillers for farmers on their farms to add to their ability to move up the value-added chain.
He said a third factor was stimulating growth in the sector, a key aspect of which was getting to know farmers and what their needs are, so the ministry can carry out interventions.
“The emphasis is on feeding ourselves. We can’t bring the food import bill to zero, but covid19 has taught us that local farmers can help us keep food on our tables. We will always have an imported element, especially where there aren’t economies of scale and the local product will not be able to compete in price, but we have significant opportunities in weaning ourselves off imported food.”
He said the State had to use its purchasing power to add significant impact on the value-added side of production.
“We have significant primary production but we should focus on value-added not only to offset imports but also to give consumers the best chance to eat food-safe, healthy products. People are pressed for time, they’re not as willing to peel and to cut as they once were, so there are better opportunities in value-added and we should be focusing on that.” Rambharat said focusing on value-added production would also allow for TT to become competitive in the export market.
He said facilitating this would require the support of ministers, as well as leadership, financing, support and highly motivated entrepreneurs.
He highlighted the success of the farmers’ markets across the country and indicated that another critical area of support in going forward for farmers is the business of marketing their products, as it relates to brand packaging, social media and other forms of advertising.