President of the Tobago Agriculture Society Dedan Daniel feels the 2021/2022 budget package failed to give Tobago’s agriculture sector the support it needs to become efficient.
The budget included a $30 million allocation for developing agricultural land and buying equipment,
He said while the plan to develop land for farmers is a step in the right direction, it still isn’t enough to make a dent in a sector that is suffering from the blows of covid19 restrictions.
Dedan said he expects the sector to remain stagnant, when asked his expectations for Tobago’s agriculture in the coming year .
“We have been doing this route since the late 1960s. We have been saying all those things about agriculture and the problems remain the same for nearly 50 years, and we are still running in circles. We need to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"This budget doesn’t show that light... We applaud any positive development, but we still have some of the traditional challenges that need to be overcome, which include agricultural labour, access roads, equipment, training, and support.”
He told Newsday in an interview on Tuesday that his association was hoping to see a larger allocation, along with incentives to stimulate food production, in the $52.49 billion budget.
Agriculture was allocated $1.249 billion along with $30 million for farmland development in Tobago.
“The seriousness is evidenced by the amount of money and investment that you put into it. I would have liked to see more money and the result of past plans from the last budget statement. The Finance Minister made mention of our $500 million stimulus for the agricultural sector. What was the status of that?”
Daniel said implementing past and future projects remains the biggest hurdle.
“There was an absence of a review on some of the initiatives that were announced in the last budget, and the extent to which they have been implemented, and the results that were emanating from those initiatives.”
The Minister of Finance, in his presentation in Parliament on Monday, allocated $2.357 billion to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
Since the THA received less than the $4.7 billion it requested from the central government, Dedan hopes the assembly will put a heavier focus on boosting agriculture and encouraging activities that will thrust the sector forward with the limited resources.
“Given the importance of agriculture and our covid19 situation, and the need to kickstart the agricultural sector, one could question whether or not the quantity that has been allocated is enough to create the type of stimulus to boost agricultural production in the country.
“In Tobago, we are losing more of our acreage for agriculture for other usage, and by pumping that investment to develop these lands and put in the roads and infrastructure that is necessary for agriculture production, this would be a step in the right direction, because that is one of the key inputs for the agricultural sector. Once that has been developed and has been leased out to serious farmers with the support, we would see the change that we need."
He added, “Land development is one thing, but there are other aspects that need to be in place to boost agricultural production. What about the technology? What about the labour, what are the key inputs like fertiliser, planting material, how we're going to deal with pest management? All of these things are very important.”
Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis told Newsday on Monday he was buoyed by the $30 million farmland development allocation.
"I am excited about that because we plan to use that funding to place approximately 100 or so farmers on state lands (and provide) the required infrastructure needs such as water, electricity and good roads – that will allow us to increase our food productivity on the island," he said.