RECENTLY, a government minister raised the talk of establishing a farm school for youths in the Moruga area. The announcement was treated to the usual ten-day talk shop in the media. The commentators talked and counter-talked, but it all melted down like bhaji in a hot pot on a sunny day.
It was for the “umpteenth” time that the agriculture conversation briefly took centre stage. It sounded like a good idea when it was aired. So, I ask, what became of the farm school talk?
The fact that we are once again getting serious about farming has brought us to this place of good talk, or was it just ole talk? It is an opportunity to get some down-to-earth solutions to our economic problems.
Over the years the leaders of our nation’s economy have been more content to raise tank farms than food farms. We were more satisfied to take the oil out of the soil than to put seeds in the ground. We continue to reap bitter rewards…paying a high price for our folly.
Back in the day, the preferred lease farming of our oil-producing fields gave good yields to our economy, but now our lands are stained with oil, dotted by “Christmas trees” (capped oil wells) instead of fruit trees on the dozens of abandoned estates across the country.
In the 1950s, the great debate for economic development held sway and learned men like Sir Arthur Lewis and others debated industrialisation by invitation or by indigenous agricultural development.
But as far back as 1932, Sir Norman Lamont of the Naparima Agricultural Society in San Fernando had argued for farm schools to be built along with the industrial schools. But instead the technical schools were favoured to grow the energy sector and agriculture has been suffering ever since.
Today, we stand with little oil in hand, still mocking and shaking our heads at the land. Too hard to till, we ’fraid the soil. Farming is hated even by the incarcerated. Working the land remains a painful thought to many who carry the memory of slavery in their blood, but less so for those who were indentured to serve. But it all adds up to a woeful neglect of the wealth beneath our feet.
There is a hindering spirit that pervades the land. The continued demise of the agricultural enterprise is no surprise. It may be a hangover from colonial days when sabotage and withholding labour were the only resistance against the oppression of the slave masters.
Today, we command our own destiny, but we’re still trying to rescue the tank farms instead of the food farms to sustain the economy. We seem to have lost our faith in farming.
We are seriously harming our economy by not farming the land. The sight of thousands of acres of uncultivated land has been painful to the eyes and unkind to our pockets. Our governments have followed each other in cue, seemingly without a clue about how to solve the plethora of problems caused by a lack of farming the land.
The attempts to address the seriousness of this economic dilemma are reflected in White Papers, grandiose mega farm schemes and other foreign models ill-suited for our development.
So, we must see the Moruga farm school announcement as a well-intentioned attempt to give agriculture a chance. Let us dream then that once again we will dance the cocoa in the hills and sing the songs of economic freedom. That’s good food for thought.
I am told the land in such places like the Naparimas (San Fernando area) were fertile and yielded much produce to the early planters. But we have raised houses instead. People are grabbing the arable land for streets and concrete and glass monstrosities. I borrow from the Bible when I quote, “We are ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth” (Bible 2Tim 3:7-8).
Our affluence has courted the influence of foreign tastes. We killed the sugar cane and the cocoa, the coconuts and the limes; nothing it seems is good enough for us to grow. At least not in enough quantities to put food on our dinner tables, or to reduce any of our $5 billion food import bill.
All the “buy local” and “support local famers” campaigns have withered in the wind. The currency of oil and gas has created a dependency on foreign lifestyles. Like a woman in pregnancy, we have craved for what we hardly need, like appetites for the apple and grapes and the insatiable tastes for other things from foreign lands.
The fruits of our labour may never stand against the produce from the metropolitan countries. Just as it was with beet sugar in the sugar cane days. But we must continue to have faith in farming and plant the land, if not only for local consumption.
Some locals even travel to work as seasonal workers on crops “in the cold” and then see the produce packaged and shipped back to our land for consumption, without a consideration for what can be grown in our own backyard. It is hard to digest...the fact that agriculture remains the “neglected child” of our economic development.
May God help us to put right where we have gone wrong. We need to use the community centres and other available facilities to teach the next generation to secure the future of our food. We must face the stark realties of a lopsided economy that excite analysis among the economists but give little reprieve to the pragmatists among us.
So, the idea of farm schools should have its day in the sun. The heady times of crazy oil drilling, of exploration and exploitation by the men in white shirts and khaki pants are long gone. We were well schooled in the tastes for what our colonial bosses possessed, now its crucial time to “stir up our faith” in a total local flavour.
In our efforts to bring balance to the economy, we must implement more tangible efforts to support local farming. What we need is the right mix of subsidies and incentives that will stimulate growth in the industry. This can be bolstered by a network of secondary-level farm schools across the country.
So, above all the “jhanjhat” and political promises, let us put our money where our mouth is – to fix our food problem, cultivate a new mindset and restore our faith in farming the land.