AS food and food security become the centre of global deliberations, local entrepreneurs interested in agriculture are being encouraged to tap into the opportunities now.
Extending the invitation, Southex Promotions CEO George Singh sold the idea to creative business-minded people of the opportunities in aquaculture, hydroponics and the many different aspects of agriculture.
Head of an entertainment events promotions outfit, Singh, reading the global environment, grasped the opportunity to host the first Agriculture and Food Expo 2022 – Our Life, Our Business at Gulf City Mall, La Romaine. It was the first in over 20 years.
Singh’s goal is to make this expo, which opened on August 3 and ended on August 7 with a large farmer’s market, the most important agricultural event in the region.
He has set a three-year time line for this event he conceptualised, in partnership with the Supermarket Association (SATT), the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Georgetown Chamber of Industry and Commerce (GCIC).
The feedback has been great, he said, and already spaces have been booked for the 2023 edition.
The successful five-day initiative came weeks before the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries hosts the TT Agri-Investment Forum and Expo 11, scheduled to take place from August 19-21 in Port of Spain.
At the opening of the five-day event, Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Faris Al -Rawi, starting from where Singh left off, emboldened present and future entrepreneurs that it was time to dream as “Co-operative initiatives do exist."
“The Prime Minister himself has led the charge of regional integration in a significant way, so much so, that the President of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, will be here on August 17 (to attend the expo) to ensure that the land space of Guyana is available to the whole of Caricom.”
Al-Rawi said providing food security and import substitution is no longer just talk, it is in the stage of operationalisation.
“I can boast that the agricultural industry is nearly 100 per cent tax-free. The incentives do exist.”
Soon, he said, his ministry will be introducing to Cabinet a proposal for commercial agricultural exploitation to urban areas. He said this will be an opportunity for commercial management and dreams.
“That means an opportunity for commercial development, jobs, food production and import substitution.”
He saluted Singh for using the enterprise to showcase what agricultural potential is and encouraged people to dream about agricultural investment
“Money does grow on trees. It is called agriculture,” Al-Rawi quipped.
Singh said he was happy to create a space for respect and investment in the sector.
“It is our hope that through this establishment and annual staging of this event, that we would be able to create people-centred development, empower stakeholders and create avenues for poverty reduction.
"Through this expo, we hope to create awareness and provide opportunities among the current and future stakeholders within the agriculture industries.
"People need to start tapping into the many opportunities for entrepreneurs interested in aquaculture, hydroponics and the many aspects of the industry.
“Food and nutrition security have become trending topics over the last few months. Therefore, the timing of this event is actually perfect for the environment that we are in.”
Whether the initiatives like these transform into the goals outlined, SATT’s president Rajiv Diptee said his association is interested in looking at initiatives that give the opportunity to tap back into the value chain.
“That is where we feel we could make a real dent in the food import bill. When we consider what food security means for customers, obviously we are going back into the production of agriculture.”
Taking a holistic look at it, he said, “That means working with government. That means working within a framework of legislation to make it happen. That means working now with value-chain producers, persons who can contribute to the activity.
“We are looking at investment and we are also looking to get the buy-in of stores to support this, the final end product, to the consumer, because we have to market it, we have to make it attractive, and we have to put it out there for today’s consumers to really appreciate what import substitution means.”
Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture Avinash Singh, himself a large-scale farmer, said there is a bright future to be had in agriculture.
He called for more private/public-sector collaboration as he commended Singh for opening eyes to vast opportunities in a sector considered risky.
He said there must be a thrust to making agriculture more "sexy", as tools and equipment have made it less tedious, “to get more people involved. The terminology goes beyond gender.”
TT Chamber president Charles Pashley agreed with Avinash Singh’s push for more private-sector and government collaboration.
“Food security has taken centre stage in the global discussion. I think we have to recognise that even as we discuss food security, we must know that it requires long-term investment in research and development, as well as varied infrastructural works and a commitment by the stakeholders – private sector and government.”
Pashley lamented, “For decades we, as a country, have shelved agriculture as something to resurrect at some time in the future. Our food and agriculture sector is very much in the spotlight now, as we confront the fallout from the far reaches of a war in Eastern Europe.
“It reminds us in the most tangible way that we live in a truly globalised society, with truly globalised concerns, but the localised impact on our people and our nation cannot be underestimated.”
One of the reasons the Chamber accepted the offer to partner with Southex, Pashley said, “was the realisation that we need to strengthen the message and to keep agriculture and agro-process at the forefront of the economic and business discussion. Thus the partnership with Southex and the SATT is a right step forward.