Pointing out the agro-processing as an industry that is poised for growth, Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said the industry will be one of the focuses in the upcoming agricultural forum and expo to be held from the 19-21 of August at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Gopee-Scoon was speaking at the launch of a new apprenticeship programme for the wood and wood product manufacturing sector at Nicholas Towers, Port of Spain on Tuesday.
“If we are in fact to build on President Irfaan Ali’s proposal – which has been accepted by the Conference of the Heads of Government – which is to reduce the food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025, it means that this area has to be focused on,” Gopee-scoon said.
She described the agro-processing sector as a sub-sector of the manufacturing industry, but said the sector also falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture. She raised the point that while farming and primary agriculture will be one of the ways the region will feed itself, agro-processing will also have a significant role.
“We pride ourselves in saying that we are strong in the manufacture of food and beverages. But when we look at the beverages sector, for instance, juices, and the inputs into those products, they are largely from extra regional sources,” she said.
“We cannot supply the pineapple mash and the orange, concentrate, and so on. Neither can we supply the refined sugar. So the inputs are extra-regional. What we have to do is find a way to expand the growth of this production of these inputs into manufacturing and those kinds of linkages.”
Gopee-Scoon said for the agro-processing industry to grow and flourish, there is a need to improve technology, innovation and investment.
“The point is, systems regionally has to ensure that the processing, and the primary production of our agriculture products really grow so that we can really realize that 25 by 25.”
MIC Institute of Technology chairman Clement Imbert also pointed out that a programme that would involve 200 prospective farmers, in a Ministry of Youth Development – backed homestead programme will also have elements of agro processing.
“In the first year (of the programme) they will be doing a certificate an agriculture and agro-processing. In the second year they will get very hands-on experience on a farm. We hope that some of them will go into specialising in agro processing and become entrepreneurs,” he said.