FORMER market vendor turned politician Foster Cummings hopes that at the end of his political career, whenever that is, to have contributed to the eradication of poverty in Trinidad and Tobago.
In interviews consisting of both virtual and in-person meetings, Cummings, 48, said he entered politics as a natural progression from being involved in community work and service.
“My passion is to work towards poverty eradication and human development and I am committed to giving additional attention to the most vulnerable in society, as we work towards building a better TT for all.”
Cummings, who began his parliamentary career in 2008 as a temporary government senator, was appointed Minister of Youth Development and National Service in April. It is his first full ministerial portfolio. He was selected by the Prime Minister to serve as a minister in the Ministry of Works and Transport last year.
“My vision is for the ministry to be a dynamic, customer-oriented and policy-driven organisation that brings all stakeholders together to promote youth development, and encourage national service across TT.
“We are committed to advancing the youth development agenda by providing safe spaces for young people in all regions across the country that will facilitate positive development; promote youth empowerment through involvement in productive activities; and increase youth participation in all aspects of sustainable development.”
After his appointment as prime minister in August last year for a second term, Dr Rowley said while national service is voluntary, it will be a pathway for young people to be trained. He said that as he announced the creation of the youth-focused ministry. He added that the ministry will be tied to three youth camps that were the fulfilment of campaign promises and appointed Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds to lead the ministry.
Hinds was reassigned to the National Security Ministry in April after the death of Franklin Khan and Stuart Young was reassigned as Energy Minister, keeping his other responsibility as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister. Cummings replaced Hinds and since then has launched an aggressive social media campaign to highlight his work as a MP and minister.
Cummings said one of the main hurdles in getting his job done is the current financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic. But he is not perturbed and aims to keep the focus on guiding youths the nation can be proud of.
“We need to focus on producing model citizens and providing adequate support for young people to attain their fullest potential, providing skills training to equip them for the job market and facilitating opportunities for entrepreneurship to support the development of the next generation of progressive citizens.”
Part of this will be an agricultural project that the ministry is working on to be launched next year. The partnership will see youths working with young farmers to learn more about the industry.
“We are promoting agriculture as a means for the young people to get involved in agro-business. As part of our enterprise development at the ministry, we are moving to different areas to look at some of the examples of what successful farmers are doing.”
Cummings spoke about the initiative as he toured Seans Rabbitry & Aquaponic Produce in Wallerfield. The farm was one of ten that the ministry visited in the past weeks as they are creating a database for the agricultural programme. Owners of Seans Rabbitry & Aquaponic Produce Sean Mc Lean and Sean Austin were selected as the ministry's "farmers of the week."
Cummings visited farms that are all owned and run by youths who believe peer partnering can motivate others to get involved in agriculture. Farming is a passion for Cummings, as he spent his formative years in agriculture, and vividly remembers helping his mother sell in the market.
“We are very involved to get young people involved on idle state lands. What we will be doing is using some of the success stories that we have. They will mentor the young ones coming into the industry.”
Austin told Sunday Newsday he and his partner decided to team up after they both realised entrepreneurship was their calling. Austin, who was a police officer, resigned and joined Mc Lean, a full-time farmer, and their company was born in 2015.
The advice from the businessmen is when it comes to rabbit farming it is better to grow into it than go into it.
Growing up in the small agricultural village of Indian Trail, Couva, Cummings understands the importance of hard work and the benefits of agriculture.
With unemployment and underemployment being the major issues affecting his constituency, Cummings hopes agriculture can address both.
“Currently, agriculture accounts for about one per cent of the country's GDP and with the recent emphasis placed on food security, agriculture and agri-business present lucrative opportunities for our young people.”