Reaping less than we sow

A tomato crop at the Orange Grove estate in Tacarigua damaged by floods on November 6. - Angelo Marcelle
A tomato crop at the Orange Grove estate in Tacarigua damaged by floods on November 6. - Angelo Marcelle

AS THE FLOODING problem continues to hit farmers, the Prime Minister last Friday assured whatever financial assistance is to be provided to those affected will be provided.

On Sunday, Dr Rowley’s Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Kazim Hosein, also assured the Government would “mobilise the necessary resources” to bring relief and return the sector to normality. Registered farmers have been encouraged to make claims.

Neither official has spelt out a timeline for how soon applications for relief will be assessed and funds disbursed.

This is of note, given the frequent complaint – not only by farmers – that government measures are often dogged by delay.

In the meanwhile, the Government continues to draw funds from disaster risk insurance facilities, money which is ostensibly meant to neutralise the financial burden posed by flooding events, but which goes into the central clearing account of the state and not directly to farmers.

“So whatever relief is to be provided to citizens will be provided from the consolidated fund through the various ministries,” Dr Rowley clarified on Friday when questioned about the US$5.84 million, or TT$39.42 million, the government received from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility.

While many farmers have suffered losses, some are set to reap tremendous gains because of price increases – so much so the Government has warned against price-gouging, even if it has taken few steps to regulate prices or to adjust the zero-rating regime further.

The lack of pricing buffers affects not only consumers but also producers. It adds yet another element of uncertainty to the business of doing agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago.

That business is only set to get harder as the climate crisis continues to make conditions more and more unstable.

It is good the Government wishes to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to assisting farmers and getting agriculture back on a solid footing.

However, what the latest incidents make plain is that talking about stimulating agriculture as a productive economic sector is not enough to ensure that sector truly blossoms.

The approach of waiting for disasters to happen and then doling out financial assistance is simply not good enough. In the long run, the need for such assistance will only become more and more pressing.

All businesses are geared toward long-term factors. Few entrepreneurs will be encouraged to enter a sector that will suffer tremendous losses every rainy season or suffer from water shortages every dry season.

This points to the fact that the incentives offered by the State to boost yields need to be far stronger. Simply offering tax breaks and loan facilities is not enough if every year a hard-working farmer will, through no fault of his or her own, suffer tremendous losses brought about by climate change.

The Government must align its environmental, planning and fiscal-stimulation priorities in such a way that reduces the hostile context in which it is asking young farmers to set up shop and begin to take root. Otherwise, we are guaranteed to reap far less than we sow.


"Reaping less than we sow"

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